Facial recognition start-up Clearview AI hacked

Hackers have gained unauthorised access to the technology company’s list of clients, which includes several US government agencies

Clearview AI's database contains more than three billion photos, which have largely been taken from social media websites in order to be used alongside facial recognition technology

A database containing in excess of three billion photographs taken from YouTube, Twitter and Facebook has been hacked, it was recently discovered. The breach has given hackers unauthorised access to facial recognition firm Clearview AI’s client list, which includes several US government agencies, such as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Clearview AI has emphasised in the days since that its servers were not breached, and that the company is continuing to work on shoring up its defences in preparation for future cyberattacks.

Clearview AI emphasised that its servers were not breached and that it is continuing to work on shoring up its defences in preparation for future cyberattacks

“Security is Clearview’s top priority,” a company spokesperson told the BBC. “Unfortunately, data breaches are part of life in the 21st century. Our servers were never accessed. We patched the flaw and continue to work to strengthen our security.”

Clearview AI was founded in 2017 by Hoan Ton-That and Richard Schwartz. It was created with the intention of compiling billions of photos for use alongside facial recognition technology – a controversial idea, with many tech companies having previously refrained from using such software in order to avoid it being misused.

The company’s decision to use images scraped from the internet has also raised privacy concerns. The full deployment of facial recognition technology has the possibility to end anonymity for anyone walking down the street. Furthermore, a New York Times investigation conducted in January revealed that Clearview AI retains photographs on its database even after users have deleted them from their social media accounts. Following this exposure, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all ordered the company to discontinue using photos taken from their platforms, but so far it is unclear whether this move has been successful.

Despite concerns being raised about the company, Clearview AI has claimed that more than 600 law enforcement agencies currently use its technology, with its software proving helpful in cases involving identity theft, credit card fraud and sexual exploitation.