In a cease-and-desist letter issued by Twitter, the company has accused facial recognition startup Clearview AI of violating its policies, and has demanded that it delete any previously collected data.
Clearview has mined more than three billion images from social media networks including Facebook, Youtube, Venmo and Twitter, according to the New York Times (NYT).
This massive database is used to power the company’s app, which is able to match people to their online photos and link back to the sites the images came from.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security, and 600 other law-enforcement agencies around the globe, are using this app to identify suspects in criminal cases.
Clearview’s app is unique in that it is one of the largest photo databases ever used by law enforcement. Other tech firms, including Google, have opted not to stockpile such data due to concerns it may be abused.
Twitter’s developer agreement policy says: “Information derived from Twitter content may not be used by, or knowingly displayed, distributed, or otherwise made available to any public-sector entity for surveillance purposes.”
A lawyer for Clearview has confirmed that it has received Twitter’s letter and said it will “respond appropriately”.
According to the NYT, the startup’s app includes programming that could match the images with augmented-reality glasses that would enable users to identify the names and addresses of anyone they saw.
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US senator Ron Wyden described Clearview’s behaviour as “extremely troubling”.
He tweeted: “Americans have a right to know whether their personal photos are secretly being sucked into a private facial-recognition database. Every day, we witness a growing need for strong federal laws to protect privacy.”
Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, sent a letter to the firm that said: “Widespread use of your technology could facilitate dangerous behaviour and could effectively destroy individuals’ ability to go about their daily lives anonymously.”
In his letter he poses 14 questions to the company and asks that it respond by 12th of February. Among his questions he asks the company to provide a list of all law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as private entities, that use the app.
He also asked about the gathering of children’s data by the firm and how it checks its product for accuracy and security.
This incident follows hot on the heels of a leaked document that revealed the European Commission is considering a five-year ban on the use of facial recognition technology.