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Clearview AI still backs facial recognition, despite competitors' concerns

CEO says his company's product has no racial bias.

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That denies that his company's facial recognition technology has racial bias.
CBS News

Clearview AI, the maker of a controversial facial recognition app, is confident its technology has beneficial uses, as other Big Tech names either exit the marketplace or suspend their use by law enforcement out of fears of misuse. The moves come amid studies showing the technology has low accuracy rates for women and minorities.

Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That says his company's technology can help protect children and victims of crimes, without risk of racial bias, singling out competitor Amazon's Rekognition as failing in that regard. His criticism comes on the same day Amazon announced a one-year moratorium on the tool's use by law enforcement, after weeks of protest against police brutality, and just days after IBM announced it's pulling out of the facial recognition market out of concern the product could be used for profiling.

"As a person of mixed race, this is especially important to me," Ton-That said in a statement Wednesday evening. "We are very encouraged that our technology has proven accurate in the field and has helped prevent the wrongful identification of people of color."

Clearview 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 in January. Since then, Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has called Clearview a "chilling" privacy risk. In addition, Google, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter have sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview. The company also faces multiple lawsuits.

Markey also raised concerns this week that police and law enforcement agencies could use facial recognition techonology to identify and arrest protestors in cities where people are protesting the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. He also voiced concern that the threat of surveillance could deter people from "speaking out against injustice for fear of being permanently included in law enforcement databases."

Ton-That also said the company is "committed to the responsible use" of its technology, adding that it's intended to be used to identify criminal suspects and not as a surveillance tool at protests or under other circumstances.

"We strongly believe in protecting our communities, and with these principles in mind, look forward to working with government and policy makers to help develop appropriate protocols for the proper use of facial recognition," Ton-That said.

In addition to concerns over accuracy, privacy advocates and lawmakers worry the technology has the potential to become an inescapable and invasive form of surveillance. A handful of cities have banned the municipal use of the technology, and Democratic lawmakers have proposed prohibiting public housing units from using facial recognition technology.