Clearview AI is Being Sued

The State of Vermont’s Attorney General Tj Donovan has filed a lawsuit in Vermont Superior Court in Chittenden County against Clearview AI. Clearview AI is a company that has come under a lot of scrutiny due to a recent New York Times Article exposing how the tool that has built a vast database from photos of private individuals it has gathered across the internet and social media platforms without consent.

The article also revealed the tool was originally tested and used by rich billionaires to surveil shoppers rather than law enforcement which the company clearly states. Attorney General Tj Donovan is alleging Clearview AI has violated the state’s consumer protection law by illegally collecting images of Vermont residents, including minors, and selling this information to private enterprises, individuals and law enforcement.

Loginhood previously voiced concerns over privacy ethics Clearview AI clearly does not care for based on the original article from The New York Times which focused on Clearview’s mobile app. Their mobile app allows whoever the user is to take a picture of any person with their smartphone, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. That sort of tool put in the wrong hands can cause a lot of damage whether it is intentionally used maliciously or not. 

Clearview AI is registered as a data broker in Vermont though. A data broker in Vermont is defined as an entity that collects information about individuals from public and private sources for profit. Data brokers are required annually to register as a data broker and provide certain information about their business models, and or data collection practices. The reason Vermont is suing them is because of their data collection practices and the fact they’ve collected a lot of data on children. 

The lawsuit also argues over what is considered “public”. The lawsuit makes the case that when an individual uploads a photograph to Facebook for “public” viewing or does not put any privacy restrictions on the photograph, they consent to others looking at the photograph but are not consenting to the mass collection of those photographs by an automated process that will then put those photographs into a facial recognition database. Is it illegal for Clearview AI to collect these photographs and save them in a database without the users’ consent or is it just immoral? Vermont believes with the legislation in place that Clearview can be sued, and Clearview will argue they are not illegally collecting any information, these users upload these images themselves as “public”. Where does the line get drawn for what information is considered public and what is considered private?