Coinbase Is Testing Clearview's Controversial Facial Recognition Technology

A Coinbase spokesperson said customer data had not been used in its trial of the tech.

AccessTimeIconFeb 28, 2020 at 12:02 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 12:22 p.m. UTC
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Coinbase is among more than 2,000 entities from around the world working with Clearview, a controversial facial recognition technology provider.

Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed revealed New York-based Clearview AI – a startup facing legal threats from Apple and Google as well as calls for greater scrutiny into its practices – had already shared or sold its technology to roughly 2,200 companies and authorities around the world.

Clearview's software trawls websites and social media platforms to scrape data and match images posted online to persons of interest. Coinbase was among the organizations that had used the software for at least one search, BuzzFeed reported Thursday.

A Coinbase spokesperson confirmed in the article the exchange had tested Clearview's software regarding its "unique needs around security and compliance," but added customer data had not been used in any of its tests.

The exchange tested Clearview AI "to see if the service could meaningfully bolster our efforts to protect employees and offices against physical threats and investigate fraud," the spokesperson said. It hasn't yet committed to using the product, they said.

Coinbase has previously faced criticism about how it deals with user privacy. Last March the exchange had to clarify it it did not sell user data days after its director of institutional sales said a previous analytics provider sold "customer data to outside sources." Coinbase had just acquired an analytics firm linked to governments with human rights abuses.

Client claims

Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That previously claimed his company's software was "strictly for law enforcement" and, in a statement to BuzzFeed, added it was focused primarily on the U.S. and Canada.

Among Clearview's largest clients are officials from various U.S. regulators. According to the documents, the Department of Homeland Security has registered for more than 280 accounts, with the Secret Service conducting some 5,600 searches.

Yet, Clearview's clients also come from the world of banking and include Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Although a BoA spokesperson said the bank had never been a Clearview client, documents show it had used the software for more than 1,900 searches.

Many clients are also based abroad, including law enforcement agencies across Europe and Asia, as well as entities such as the sovereign wealth fund of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many had taken advantage of free trials that allow unlimited searches within a 30-day period.

Clearview attorney Tor Ekeland told BuzzFeed there are "numerous inaccuracies in this illegally obtained information" and declined to provide any further comment.

In early February, Google, Youtube and Facebook sent Clearview cease and desist orders for scraping images from their platforms. In an interview with CBS News, Ton-That said it was his First Amendment right to collect photos held in the public space.


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