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Clearview AI to Stop Selling Facial Recognition Database to Private Companies

The change comes as part of a settlement with the ACLU.

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James Martin/CNET

Facial recognition company Clearview AI will no longer sell its facial recognition database to most private companies or individuals in the US. The change comes as part of a settlement, filed Monday in federal court in Illinois, with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

"Clearview can no longer treat people's unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit," Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a release. 

Clearview AI has been criticized for building its database, which the company says has more than 20 billion facial images, by trawling the internet and popular social media sites to harvest pictures of people without their consent. The company's software has been used by local police departments and government agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2020, the ACLU and other organizations sued Clearview AI for violating Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act, one of the few state privacy laws regulating the collection of biometric data. The law requires companies to have "informed written consent" before gathering and using biometric identifiers, including images of faces, of Illinois residents. 

Under the settlement, Clearview can still sell its database to federal and state agencies as well as some US banks and financial institutions, according to The New York Times

However, in Illinois, the company will be banned from letting private companies and any state or local agency, including law enforcement, use its database for the next five years, according to the ACLU. Clearview also has to maintain an opt-out website for Illinois residents, letting them request that their photos not show up in its search results. 

Clearview AI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for the company told The New York Times that Clearview was "pleased to put this litigation behind it."

The settlement is subject to approval by the court.