Vermont attorney general is suing Clearview AI over its controversial facial recognition app

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has filed a lawsuit against Clearview AI and has asked the court to order the company to stop collecting Vermonters’ photos and facial recognition data. In a statement, Donovan said he was “disturbed” by the company’s business practices, which he said includes collecting and selling children’s facial recognition data.

“This practice is unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy,” Donovan said. “I will continue to fight for the privacy of Vermonters, particularly our most vulnerable.” Donovan also confirmed that no Vermont state or local law enforcement agencies have used the facial recognition app.

Clearview AI built its controversial app by scraping billions of publicly available images of individuals from the internet without their knowledge or consent. Clearview’s customers — which a leaked client list suggests range from the Department of Justice to Best Buy — can then use the app’s database to search for persons of interest using any available photo.

Donovan alleges that this database violates the Vermont Consumer Protection Act as well as the Data Broker Law.

Clearview has remained defiant in the face of the opposition to its service, claiming that what it does is no different from the work of a traditional search engine. “Clearview AI operates in a manner similar to search engines like Google and Bing. Clearview AI, however, collects far less data than Google and Bing, because Clearview AI only collects public images and their web address. That’s all,” the company said in a statement to CNET. “Google, Bing and Facebook collect far more data, including names, addresses, financial and health information and shopping habits.”

Vermont’s AG is just the latest in a string of officials, companies, and individuals to have expressed concerns about Clearview AI’s facial recognition database. New Jersey’s attorney general has already barred the state’s police forces from using the app, while Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has written to the company’s CEO to express concerns.

Meanwhile, the services that Clearview used to gather its database of images have also objected to the company’s actions. YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have all asked the company to stop scraping their sites’ images, with many of them saying that their terms of service explicitly forbid the practice of scraping information.

This isn’t the first legal action Clearview AI has faced. Back in January, ZDNet reported that an individual in Illinois filed a lawsuit against the company, while CNET reported that another lawsuit was filed in New York in February.

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