Clearview AI On Track To Win US Patent For Facial Recognition Technology

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Politico: Clearview AI has gotten the green light on a federal patent for its facial recognition technology -- an award that the company says is the first to cover a so-called "search engine for faces" that crawls the internet to find matches. Clearview's software -- which scrapes public images from social media to help law enforcement match images in government databases or surveillance footage -- has long faced fire from privacy advocates who say it uses people's faces without their knowledge or consent. Civil rights groups also argue that facial recognition technology is generally error-prone, misidentifying women and minorities at higher rates than it does white men and sometimes leading to false arrests. (A recent audit of Clearview's tech by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology found its results to be highly accurate (PDF), and the company said it knows of no instances to date where the technology has led to a wrongful arrest.) Now, some of those critics fear that codifying Clearview's work with a patent will accelerate the growth of these technologies before legislators or regulators have fully addressed the potential dangers. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sent Clearview a "notice of allowance" on Wednesday, meaning the patent will be approved once the company pays certain administrative fees. The patent covers Clearview's "methods of providing information about a person based on facial recognition," including its "automated web crawler" that scans social networking sites and the internet and its algorithms that analyze and match facial images obtained online. "There are other facial recognition patents out there -- that are methods of doing it -- but this is the first one around the use of large-scale internet data," Clearview CEO and co-founder Hoan Ton-That told POLITICO in an exclusive interview. The product uses a database of more than 10 billion photos, Ton-That said, and he has emphasized that "as a person of mixed race, having non-biased technology is important to me." Clearview argues that there is a First Amendment right to make use of public material. "All information in our datasets are all publicly available info that people voluntarily posted online -- it's not anything on your private camera roll," Ton-That said. "If it was all private data, that would be a completely different story." Ton-That said Clearview serves government users only and that "we don't intend to ever make a consumer version of Clearview AI." Yet Clearview says in its patent application that the invention could be useful for other purposes. The company argues that "it may be desirable for an individual to know more about a person that they meet, such as through business, dating, or other relationship." Common ways of learning about new people, like asking them questions or checking out their business cards, may be unreliable because the information they choose to share could be false, the application says. "The part that they're looking to protect is exactly the part that's the most problematic," said Matt Mahmoudi, an Amnesty International researcher who is leading the group's work to ban facial recognition. "They are patenting the very part of it that's in violation of international human rights law." Mahmoudi of Amnesty International said that language in the patent leaves the door open to a cascade of new uses in the future. "It shows a willingness to go down a slippery slope of basically being available in any context," he said.

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