Every day, millions of social media users upload images to their accounts. For instance, approximately 350 million photographs are uploaded to Facebook alone every day. Many, if not all, of these sites, make the images available to anyone with a web browser and internet connection.
The shere wealth of public information available on social media is more valuable than anything else.Given the voluminous amount of information, some companies have decided to use third-party tools to gather this information from different social media channels and monetize it.
Photographs uploaded on social media sites raise critical issues because they feature an individual’s biometric data that is immutable and highly personal.
Due to heightened privacy concerns, collecting, storing, analyzing, and selling biometric data was considered taboo by most tech companies until Clearview AI launched its facial recognition software.
Clearview’s Massive AI Facial Recognition Database
Five years ago, a developer named Hoan Ton-That embarked on a mission of creating a robust facial recognition algorithm.
In 2017, Ton-That was successful in his mission. Together with his other business partner, they founded Clearview AI and began marketing its powerful facial recognition software to different companies- mostly law enforcement agencies.
The company’s AI algorithm allegedly populates its database with publicly available images scraped from different social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and many more.
Reports published in the New York Times claim that the algorithm has amassed more than 3 billion images and stored them in its database.
By analyzing the biometric information of the images stored in the database, Clearview allows people to upload a photo of any individual to its site, and they will view all publicly available photos of the individual alongside links to where the images appear.
Clearview says that its images have been used by approximately 600 law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal of Bureau Investigations (FBI).
While the company brags about its groundbreaking facial recognition AI, many serious privacy concerns have been raised around it. Several senators and cybersecurity experts have criticized Clearview’s AI algorithm for eroding online privacy and infringing on individual privacy rights.
Recently, Twitter sent the company a cease-and-desist letter accusing Clearview’s AI of violating the social media’s policies.
The letter demanded Clearview to stop scraping photos and other crucial data from the social media site with immediate effect. It is alleged that Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Venmo have also issued cease-and-desist letters to the startup.
Class-Action Litigation Against the Startup
After the expose reported by the New York Times last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) moved to court and sued Clearview AI for violating Illinois digital privacy law by scraping more than 3 billion images on different social media websites without its owners’ consent.
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The Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation (JPML) approved an MDL in December 2020, and the mass tort cases have already been assigned to a judge of the Northern District of Illinois. The lawsuit will go down in history as the first-ever class-action lawsuit involving breach of privacy on artificial intelligence claims.
According to a copy of the complainant sheet, the plaintiffs claim that Clearview AI broke Illinois privacy laws and should be held accountable. The complainants say that the startup specifically violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) enacted to safeguard citizens from having their biometrics data accessed and used without their consent.
According to this law, every company must obtain explicit consent from an Illinois resident before collecting, distributing, or using their biometric information, such as the facial scans that Clearview’s AI collect from people’s social media handles.
The plaintiffs want proper measures to be put in place to ensure that the sensitive biometric identifiers and data still in Clearview’s possession are well protected from hackers and further unlawful distribution and use.
The plaintiffs are also seeking a remedy to the harms that the New York startup company has already caused and a court injunction to stop the company from selling the biometric data of Illinois residents, and a court order directing the company to delete Illinois residents’ data with immediate effect.
The plaintiffs are also requesting the court to come up with punitive damage that will be used to compensate victims.
Further Outrage on Clearview’s AI
Beyond the lawsuit, both tech leaders and government officials have voiced their objections to the company’s project. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts penned an open letter to Clearview’s CEO on January 23 demanding immediate answers to a wide range of issues he termed as “particularly chilling.”
In his letter, the senator demanded that the company names the government agencies and private companies currently using the software. He also demanded comprehensive details of employee access to private biometric data and whether Clearview has already used its AI tool on children.
As mentioned earlier, leading tech companies have also made their stand on Clearview’s AI algorithm known by sending cease-and-desist letters to the company.
In a more forceful response, Apple suspended the startup’s developer account. In a statement released after the suspension, Apple explained that Clearview had violated its Developer Program terms of service.
The suspension disabled the software’s iOS version, but its Android and desktop versions are still running.
Join the Class Action Lawsuit Today!
Do you feel like your photograph is among the over 3billion images collected illegally by Clearview? If so, you should join the lawsuit as soon as possible to stand a chance of being compensated.
Fortunately, when it comes to scraping images from social media sites, even individuals outside Illinois who are not protected by BIPA can come together and launch a breach of privacy or independent misappropriation claims.
All you have to do is talk to an experienced mass tort attorney who will guide you on the way forward. Contact us today to speak to one of our experienced mass tort attorneys.