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Clearview AI app was reportedly used for fun by company's investors, friends

The facial recognition app has raised serious privacy concerns.

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The use of facial recognition technology has been spreading rapidly.

Getty Images

Before Clearview AI became the target of public scrutiny earlier this year, the facial recognition app was used freely by the company's investors, clients and friends, according to a report Thursday from The New York Times. The app was reportedly demonstrated at events like parties, business gatherings and even on dates. 

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.

"As part of the ordinary course of due diligence, we provided trial accounts to potential and current investors, and other strategic partners, so they could test the technology," Hoan Ton-That, Clearview's CEO, said Thursday in an emailed statement. 

The Times also said it's identified "multiple individuals with active access to Clearview's technology" who aren't members of law enforcement. In January, Clearview said its search engine is available only to law enforcement agencies and select security professionals as a tool to aid investigations. 

In addition to law enforcement agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI using the software, BuzzFeed News last month reported that the app has been used by people working at Macy's, Walmart and other retailers