by Anthony W. Accurso
Clearview AI, controversial facial recognition software being pitched to law enforcement agencies, bills itself as being “the most accurate facial identification software worldwide,” but first-hand reports from police departments reflect the program’s near uselessness.
Clearview has been trying hard to sell law enforcement agencies on using its facial recognition software. It leads seminars on using its product and offers 30-day free trials to any agency that’s willing to give it a go. In its promotional materials, it claims to be able to produce accurate matches from suspect photos “in less than five seconds.” According to techdirt.com, “[t]he company even goes so far as to tell police that using its software will make them ‘realize you were the crazy one’ for not believing face recognition would perform the same as it does in outlandish TV depictions like ‘NCIS, CSI, [and] Blue Bloods.’”
As news outlets investigate Clearview’s marketing tactics, the claims get increasingly unbelievable indeed. In 2020, the company was claiming its product passed the ACLU’s facial recognition test. However, the ACLU says the company had not actually run the test as designed but rather crowed success after its software correctly identified senators and Congressional reps based on clear, high-quality photos from campaign websites. This is a far-cry from accurately identifying a person from grainy CCTV footage.
Though Clearview seemed to think that the product would speak for itself, the Project On Government Oversight compiled testimony from various law enforcement agencies showing they were unimpressed.
“Photos entered were of known individuals including themselves and family members. The software did not yield accurate results and they ceased using it prior to the end of the 30-day trial period,” according to Kathy Ferrel, public information officer, Smyrna Police Department. Barry Wilkerson, police chief, St. Matthews Police Department said he didn’t find it to be very useful, “so we stopped using it. Half the searches were on us to see what it would pull up. We were getting very poor results.”
Clearview first made headlines after claiming it was the most accurate facial recognition program because it used a larger database of source images—images it turned out the company had scraped from social media websites in a blatant violation of privacy and social norms. Even after that mischief, the software doesn’t seem to work as advertised.
It is yet to be seen how long a company with such a poor record can stay in business. The answer may be as long as your local police keep paying them.
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