Google, YouTube, Twitter tell face-rec upstart Clearview to stop harvesting people's content – that's their job

Tech-for-cops CEO claims First Amendment rights as a legal defense

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Updated Google, YouTube, and Twitter have sent cease-and-desist demands to Clearview, ordering the controversial startup to stop scraping people's photos from their websites to train its facial-recognition software.

Last month, it emerged Clearview built a tool to match people's faces to their internet identities: you can show its machine-learning system a snap of someone and it would run through its database of more than three billion pictures scraped from the internet to find a match, and then pull up the image's associated data, such as its source. For example, if it matched a CCTV still of you with your photo scraped from Twitter, it would report the match and link to the source: your Twitter profile page.

It basically turns snaps of people into online handles and identities, if not full names and personal details. Pictures become source URLs, which become webpages, which become dossiers on folks.

Clearview pitched its system at law enforcement, promising cops across the US they could enter a suspect’s image into its software, and if it found a match, it would spit out other pictures of the person, along with links to their social media profiles.

Now, Google, YouTube and Twitter have urged the upstart to stop harvesting photos from their public platforms. In their minds, Clearview has violated their terms of service by scraping data without permission.

Twitter sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clearview last month, according to The New York Times. Google and its sprawling YouTube empire followed suit, urging the startup to cease slurping anymore images from its videos and webpages, and to delete its photos stored in the startup's mega-database.

But in an interview with CBS, the startup’s founder and CEO Hoan Ton-That believed his New-York-City-based biz has a “First Amendment right to public information."

Yeah. Think about it.

On a more reasonable line of thought, Thon-that compared Clearview’s slurping to Google’s public web crawling to justify his actions. "Google can pull in information from all different websites," he said earlier today. "So if it's public and it's out there and could be inside Google search engine, it can be inside ours as well."

He claimed Clearview’s facial recognition algorithm is 99.6 per cent accurate; it works even if the initial image fed into the tool is blurry or if the face is partially obscured, apparently. A Buzzfeed investigation in January cast doubt on the accuracy, after it found that the startup seemingly lied about the New York Police Department using its software.

Folks in Illinois have sued the biz, arguing it has violated the US state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a law that requires companies to obtain explicit consent to collect biometric data, which includes photos. ®

Updated to add

Facebook has also sent cease and desist letters to Clearview, as has Venmo.

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