YouTube just sent a cease-and-desist to Clearview AI

“There is also a first amendment right to public information. So the way we have built our system is to only take publicly available information and index it that way. So that's all I can say on the matter.”

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That, in an interview to CBS News


Clearview AI, the latest in dystopian facial recognition software, was just hit with a massive cease-and-desist from Google and YouTube. A similar letter was sent by Twitter last month.

Its CEO is calling on the first amendment — Clearview AI’s founder and CEO, Hoan Ton-That, knows his software could be used to create a “dystopian future or something.” But that’s not stopping him by any means. Rather, he says the First Amendment gives him the right to scrape the internet for any and all images he pleases. Ton-That’s argument is that everything used by the system is publically available.

So far Clearview’s database has somewhere around three billion images and can produce results that are 99.6 percent accurate, according to Ton-That.

But it’s against company policy — YouTube, which is owned by Google, and Twitter make a compelling argument in the opposite direction. Both companies have stated that Clearview AI goes against their policies.

“YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person,” a YouTube spokesperson told CBS News. “Clearview has publicly admitted to doing that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter.”

The companies have demanded that, beyond ceasing operations that use their sites, Clearview delete all data that has already been collected from them. Facebook and Venmo have made similar statements, though neither company has sent legal warnings as of yet.

Clearview is on thin ice — Ton-That claims that Clearview is just like Google Search in that it scrapes the web and makes it searchable. But many websites are coming forward explicitly asking to not be included in the software’s searches, which is not the case with Google. And though Ton-That has stated the software is only available for use by law enforcement and he will never make it available for the general public — but leaked emails also show the founder encouraging users to “run wild” with the software and test it on friends and family.

Besides the cease-and-desist letters, Clearview AI is also dealing with a lawsuit from the state of Illinois and letters from advocacy groups pleading for the software to be shut down. The company has also been shown to be backed by dubious alt-right groups and investors like Peter Thiel.

With its chief executive calling upon the U.S. Constitution for backup, Clearview’s arguments against its dystopian leanings are quickly growing thin. And with big tech companies stepping up to bat against Clearview, it’s going to be a very bumpy ride for everyone involved.