Clearview AI Says It’s Bringing Facial Recognition to Schools

Clearview AI Says It’s Bringing Facial Recognition to Schools
Photo: Hector Vivas, Getty Images

Clearview AI, the surveillance firm notoriously known for harvesting some 20 billion face scans off of public social media searches, said it may bring its technology to schools and other private businesses.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, the company revealed it’s working with a U.S. company selling visitor management systems to schools. That reveal came around the same time as a horrific shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that tragically left 19 children and two teachers dead. Though Clearview wouldn’t provide more details about the education-linked companies to Gizmodo, other facial recognition competitors have spent years trying to bring the tech to schools with varying levels of success and pushback. New York state even moved to ban facial recognition in schools two years ago.

In a press release Wednesday, the company outlined a path toward an apparent one-to-one face match verification method that could be used in schools, banks, and other private firms as part of its new “Clearview Consent” product. Clearview says it seeks to sell its facial recognition tool to enterprise companies decoupled from its massive database of faces. Theoretically, that means private companies could use Clearview’s system as a 1:1 identity verification tool before creating an online account, check-in a passenger at an airport, or protecting against financial fraud.

“Today, FRT is used to unlock your phone, verify your identity, board an aeroplane, access a building, and even for payment,” Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That said in a statement. “Now, we are offering companies who use facial recognition as part of a consent-based workflow access to Clearview AI’s superior, industry-leading FRT algorithm, bringing an increased level of security and protection to the marketplace.”

Clearview wouldn’t comment on how many companies have shown interest in the program.

This new, modified approach marks a departure from Clearview’s infamous one-to-many facial recognition standard, which attempts to verify the identity of individuals against its hulking database of faces, a surveillance method decried by privacy groups and lawmakers alike. Recent regulations targeting that specific aspect of Clearview’s business have likely made Clearview’s appetite for change all the more palatable.

Clearview’s adapted verification approach has reportedly gained the attraction of a Colombian app-based lending startup called Vaale who’s using it to match user selfies to their IDs. Other face match companies, like ID.me, use what looks like a similar approach to verify the identities of users attempting to access U.S. government websites. Privacy advocates generally prefer the 1:1 face matching’s inherently more restrictive and content-driven nature compared to the more wild west, surveillance states aspect of one-to-many recognition. That said, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation warn face matching still poses its own long list of potential problems.

“All forms of face matching raise serious digital rights concerns, including face identification, verification, tracking, and clustering,” Bennett Cyphers, Adam Schwartz, and Nathan Sheard of the EFF write. “If the unknown faceprint is similar enough to any of the known faceprints, the system returns a potential match. This is often known as “face identification.”

“Using facial recognition as a preventative measure means fewer crimes and fewer victims,” Ton-That said. “Ultimately, Clearview Consent is all about making everyday consumers feel more secure in a world that is rife with crime and fraud.”

Clearview Forced to Adapt

Clearview’s pivot towards a database-free version of its tech comes partly out of necessity. The walls have started to close in around the country in recent months, with new restrictions and government opposition threatening to upend their core product offerings. Just this week, the U.K. government ordered Clearview to purge the face scans of all U.K. faces and pay a £7.5 million fine for violating the country’s privacy rules. The U.K. became the fourth country to ask Clearview to cease operations in recent years

Not long before that, Clearview struck a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union which effectively banned Clearview from selling access to its database in the U.S. That settlement threatened to throw a wrench in Clearview’s ambitions to expand beyond public government partnerships. At the time, privacy advocates like Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn told Gizmodo the settlement represented a, “milestone for civil rights.”