Clearview AI facial recognition customers reportedly include DOJ, FBI, ICE, Macy's

Retail companies as well as law enforcement agencies have used the service, says a report.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
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Customers of controversial facial recognition app Clearview AI include not only law enforcement agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice, but also companies such as retail giant Macy's, according to a Thursday report by BuzzFeed News, which cited internal documents reviewed by the publication.

Clearview AI has also been used by some people working at the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, Interpol, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile , Best Buy, Eventbrite, Las Vegas Sands, Coinbase, Bank of America, Walmart and Kohl's, according to the BuzzFeed report.

"This list, if confirmed, is a privacy, security, and civil liberties nightmare," said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Government agents should not be running our faces against a shadily assembled database of billions of our photos in secret and with no safeguards against abuse."

Interpol confirmed a "small number" of its officers in the Crimes Against Children unit used 30-day trials of the Clearview AI product, but that Interpol has no formal relationship with the company. In an emailed statement, ICE confirmed its use of Clearview AI, saying it's primarily for agents with Homeland Security Investigations who are involved in child exploitation and cybercrime cases. The FBI declined to comment. 

AT&T said it's not a client of Clearview AI. Best Buy denied ever using or planning to use Clearview AI. Bank of America said it's not a customer. Eventbrite denied being a client of the company.

Clearview AI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, the company revealed that it had suffered a data breach that saw its customer list stolen, along with information such as the number of searches those customers have made and how many accounts customers had set up. Clearview attorney Tor Ekeland said in a statement then that security is the company's "top priority."

The app identifies people by comparing photos to a database of images scraped from social media and other sites. It came under fire after a New York Times investigation into the software company last month, and in late January, Democratic Sen. Edward Markey called Clearview AI a "chilling" privacy risk. Since then, Google , YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter have sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI, and the company is also facing multiple lawsuits.

"This is a crisis for our democracy," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "Lawmakers need to get off their butts, do their jobs, and pass legislation to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance not just by government agencies but by corporations too."

Coinbase said it hasn't yet made a commitment to use Clearview AI.

"Our security and compliance teams tested Clearview AI to see if the service could meaningfully bolster our efforts to protect employees and offices against physical threats and investigate fraud," a Coinbase spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We have not tested nor would we use Clearview AI's service with our customer data. We maintain strict privacy controls that prevent customer data from being used in this manner." 

The Department of Justice, Customs and Border Protection, Macy's, Verizon, T-Mobile, Las Vegas Sands, Walmart and Kohl's didn't respond to requests for comment.

The BuzzFeed report also said Clearview AI has expanded to law enforcement agencies in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, India, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Originally published Feb. 27 at 2:11 p.m. PT.
Updates, 2:30 p.m.: Adds Best Buy statement, info on more companies, expansion globally; 2:35 p.m.: Adds Bank of America statement; 2:56 p.m.: Adds Coinbase statement; 3:05 p.m.: Adds statements from ACLU and Fight for the Future; Feb. 28: Adds comment from AT&T; March 2, 11:55 a.m.: Adds Eventbrite and Interpol responses.

Watch this: Clearview AI's facial recognition goes creepier than most surveillance tech