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Twitter tells Clearview AI to back-off, stop scraping user data

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As the companies and government agencies have delved deeper in their deployment of facial recognition technology despite public push back, Twitter has somewhat decided to take a small stand.

Clearview AI is a small start-up that advertises itself as “Technology to help solve the hardest crimes.” What they do is scrape the world wide web and collect everyone’s public images, allowing anyone to upload a picture of a person and see more pictures of them along with links of where these pictures can be found online.

Understandably, the service is a favorite of law enforcement, having already been adopted by more than 600 agencies, from local police departments to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. These agencies claim that Clearview AI has already “helped them identify suspects in many criminal cases.”

Twitter decided to take a stand and wrote to the company asking them to stop using the images they obtain from Twitter (which are indeed public) “for any reason” because it violates their terms of service.

Clearview AI acknowledged receiving Twitter’s letter but declined to comment on it.

Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, also wrote to Clearview AI‘s co-founder and chief executive Hoan Ton-That saying “Widespread use of your technology could facilitate dangerous behavior and could effectively destroy individuals’ ability to go about their daily lives anonymously.”

The letter additionally poses 14 questions asking for the company to respond by February 12. Among those concerns is the collection of children’s information as well as a list of all law enforcement, intelligence agencies and private entities that use their service. He added that “In the absence of a rigorously enforced consumer privacy law, technology companies will continue to develop and market products that pose existential threats to our fundamental privacy rights.”

Clearview AI highlights the urgency of the need for legislation that restricts the usage of facial recognition technology, particularly by government agencies, before we follow in China’s dystopian footsteps.. This need is of even more urgency to people of color who are frequently misidentified by the technology and wrongly convicted as a result, as pointed out by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on January 15.

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