Clearview AI, the secret company that has built up a database of billions of photos scraped without permission from social media and the web, has tested its face recognition software on surveillance cameras and augmented reality glasses, according to documents released by BuzzFeed News seen.
Clearview, claiming that its software can match a photo of each individual with photos of those posted online, has quietly worked on a surveillance camera with face recognition capabilities. That device is being developed under a division called Insight Camera, which has been tested by at least two potential customers according to the documents.
On its website – which was taken offline after BuzzFeed News requested a comment from a Clearview spokesperson – Insight said it offers “the smartest security camera” that is “now in limited preview to select retail, banking and residential buildings”.
The Insight Camera main site had no clear connection to Clearview, but BuzzFeed News was able to link it to the face recognition company by comparing Insight's code and Clearview's respective login pages, which both shared numerous references to Clearview's servers. This shared code also called something called “Fastlane “, a “checkin app “.
Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-Dat and a company spokesperson have not responded to multiple requests for comment about Insight or its work in experimenting with physical devices. After BuzzFeed handed out to inquire about Insight Camera, the entity website disappeared.
Despite the fact that Clearview publicly claims it only works with law enforcement agencies, the company has aggressively pushed its technology to the private sector. As BuzzFeed News first reported, Clearview documents have indicated that more than 2,200 public and private entities are credible to use its face recognition software, including Macy's, Kohl's, the National Basketball Association, and Bank of America.
Clearview has never made public mention of Insight Camera. A list of organizations believed to use its app viewed by BuzzFeed News showed that Clearview had identified two entities experimenting with its surveillance cameras in a category called “has_security_camera_app “.
Those two organizations, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the New York City real estate firm Rudin Management, are setting up Insight Camera in trials, confirmed BuzzFeed News. In a statement, UFT, a union representing teachers in New York City public schools, said the technology was “successful” in helping security personnel identify individuals who had made threats against employees so they could be prevented to enter one of his desks.
“We didn't have access to the larger Clearview database,” a UFT spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Instead, we used Insight Camera in a self-contained, closed system that relies solely on images generated on the spot.”
UFT did not say how many pictures there were in that “closed system”, that it is separated from the database of more than 3 billion pictures that Clearview AI said it was from millions of sites, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, has scraped. Clearview's desktop software and mobile app allow users to run static photos through a face recognition system that matches people to existing media in a few seconds, but the Insight Camera, according to which it used, tried to mark individuals of interest using face recognition on a live video feed.
A spokesperson for Rudin Management, who has a portfolio of 18 residential and 16 commercial office buildings and two condominiums in New York City, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it had tested Insight's cameras.
“We are testing many products to see if they would be additive to our portfolio and tenants,” the spokesman said. “In this case, we decided it wasn't, and we're not currently using the software.”
BuzzFeed News discovered Insight after analyzing a copy of Clearview 's web app, which can be discovered by the public, and determining that it contained code for a “security_camera ” app. Entities that had access to that security camera app seem to have been able to log in to the Insight Camera website, which was registered last April.
A BuzzFeed News analysis from the Insight Camera site found that it was almost a perfect clone of the code found on the Clearview AI web page. Although there were some aesthetic differences between the two sites, both appeared to share the same code to communicate with Clearview's servers.
Although Clearview has recently stated that its services are intended for law enforcement, the company has retained a significant interest in the private sector. As BuzzFeed News reported earlier, Ton-Dat's business ended up in a retail technology accelerator in the summer of 2018, before claiming that the company would focus on law enforcement.
A presentation of the company's early pitches to investors recently reviewed by BuzzFeed News suggests that in early 2018 the company was not focused on law enforcement at all. On one slide, the company identified four sectors in which it tested its technology: banking, retail, insurance, and oil. The only mention of the government or public entities is in reference to a pilot at an unnamed “large federal agency”.
“Banking. The largest bank in the world selected Clearview to conduct security background checks for its annual shareholders' meeting,” the company wrote on one of its slides. “Retail. Manhattan 's top food vendor has hired resume to deliver facial recognition hardware & software for its supermarket chain.”
Privacy defender Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights activist Struggle for the Future, said brick and mortar stores are seen as “community spaces” and one of the most attractive applications for Clearview in the private sector would investigate people as they enter a store to see if they have a criminal record, and they remained skeptical about Clearview's technology.
“They claim that this technology can do all sorts of things and institutions are easily blinded by that,” Greer said. “But it is relatively new technology for this type of application and it has not been tested at all. We know there are better ways to keep people safe who do not violate their rights.”
Clearview has also actively experimented with wearables with the help of Vuzix, a manufacturer of augmented reality glasses from Rochester, New York. The Clearview data reviewed by BuzzFeed News shows that nearly 300 searches have been made in connection with Vuzix, some of which only in November. Matt Margolis, Vuzix's director of business development, acknowledged that his company had sent the startup sets of his augmented reality glasses to test, with Clearview being one of the few developers of face recognition that it had collaborated with.
“It's not something everyone buys off the shelf, but I can't deny that it's under development, although it's not something we're selling today,” Margolis told BuzzFeed News. “We have a number of other partners who use face recognition, but they don't do the same as Clearview. They don't use photos that have crawled from the web.”
Clearview's link to Vuzix was first reported by Gizmodo. The company's interest in smart glasses was first reported by the New York Times.
Vuzix, which has Intel as a shareholder, initially focused on entertainment and gaming before moving into “defense and domestic security markets,” according to a financial file last year. On her company blog in February, Vuzix cited the sci-fi film RoboCop, where officers used smart glasses with live face recognition as inspiration, and noted that countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates “already screen crowds to match faces with a huge database “.
BuzzFeed News previously reported that Clearview AI had delivered its face recognition technology to entities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two countries known for their human rights violations. The company has not previously provided answers to questions about entities that have used its software.
Last week, in an email to BuzzFeed News, Clearview Tor Ekeland's lawyer said: “There are numerous inaccuracies in this illegally obtained information. Since there is an ongoing federal investigation, we have no further comments.”
Margolis, who has seen Clearview demos, acknowledged that a face recognition portable can be misused with “many negative options,” but noted that systems are only as good as the biometric information they rely on. He said Clearview's technology was accurate on the tests he had seen and mentioned the billions of photos the company had swallowed from the web part of the public domain.
“Tech used the right way is the real goal … to keep people safe,” he said. “You want to find the culprits. It's not a bad thing for society.”
Code from Clearview AI's app analyzed by BuzzFeed News also suggested that startup had experimented with technology from RealWear, a Vancouver, Washington-based manufacturer of augmented reality glasses. The code contained instructions for new users to scan a Clearview QR code to link the app to a RealWear device. The data viewed by BuzzFeed News showed that the accounts associated with RealWear had initiated more than 70 searches as recently as last month.
In an interview, RealWear CEO Andy Lowery said that he had never heard of Clearview, but that his company had sold the startup a few devices about a year ago. He told BuzzFeed News that RealWear “does not market or sell to police services in a significant way,” and compared his company with a phone manufacturer such as Samsung in that it could not control which applications the developers built or put on their devices .
Lowery could not explain why the data from Clearview showed that the accounts associated with RealWear had performed face recognition technology searches, but did not rule out one of his 115 employees trying the software.
“I have not seen any evidence that they are working with us in any way,” he said. “I don't even see them selling or reselling anything with our devices.”Tags: #ArtificialIntelligence, #latestNewsAI, #Robotics