AI Company Aims to Collect 100 Billion Facial Images

Clearview AI wants to identify everyone in the world, stirring backlash from tech firms and world leaders.

February 18, 2022

Facial Recognition

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Clearview AI, a facial recognition company, has told its investors that it is on track to have 100 billion facial images in its database within a year, which is the equivalent of 14 photos for each of the 7 billion people on Earth, reports the Washington Post. It has more than 10 billion images now.

In a presentations to investors, the company said the amount is enough to ensure that “almost everyone in the world will be identifiable,” and would help power a surveillance system that has been used by law enforcement and government agencies globally.

Clearview AI says that its technology and information could help monitor gig workers and is researching a number of new technologies that could identify someone based on how they walk, detect their location from a photo or scan their fingerprints from afar, reports the Post.

“The document was made for fundraising purposes, and it is unclear how realistic its goals might be,” writes the Post, who says that the company is attempting to expand, which would be largely funded by government contracts and the taxpayers the system would be used to monitor.

Currently, there is no federal regulation on how facial recognition should be used. Major tech players, such Microsoft and Amazon, are not actively pursuing the technology before Congress has established rules.

But Clearview says that caution is a business opportunity and claimed in its presentation that its technology is better than China’s facial recognition systems because its “facial database” is connected to “public source metadata” and “social linkage” information.

Clearview has been able to build its image database by using images from social media sites and other online sources without consent. Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube have demanded the company stop taking photos from their sites and delete any that were previously taken, but Clearview says its data collection is protected by the First Amendment.

California, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Virginia have sued Clearview and asked their law enforcement not to use their system, while Sweden fined a local police agency for using it last year. The company is also facing a class-action suit in a Canadian federal court. Australia and France have demanded Clearview delete their citizens’ data.

Clearview’s founder, Hoan Ton-That told the Post that his company’s photos have “been collected in a lawful manner” from “millions of different websites” on the public internet. A person’s “public source metadata” and “social linkage information,” he added, can be found on the websites that Clearview has linked to their facial photos.

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition authentication for those creating new online accounts. The IRS announced this past summer that all taxpayers would need to submit a “video selfie” to its facial recognition partner,, to access tax records and other services on the IRS website.

The agency received criticism of the decision from members of Congress and private companies. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement: “I appreciate that the administration recognizes that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive, and no one should be forced to submit to facial recognition to access critical government services.”

NACS Daily reported that more than 30 advocacy organizations started a campaign to get retailers to halt usage of facial recognition technology or to agree not to use it. Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Kroger are among the chains agreeing not to rely on facial recognition software. Stores using the technology include Albertson’s, Apple and Macy’s, although these chains say it’s only used to stop fraud and increase security.