Clearview AI is a startup company that has billions of people’s photographs in a database, and that entire database has just been stolen.

Clearview is a facial recognition company that developed technology to match faces to a database of more than three billion faces indexed from Internet social media websites and other sources such as Twitter, YouTube, Google and Facebook.

This has angered some social networking firms. Last month Twitter demanded that Clearview delete all the images it had pulled from its platform, and stop all photo collection going forward. Google and Facebook have also filed cease-and-desist letters.

Database compromised

Indeed, the privacy implications has been noted by US lawmakers.

Senator Edward J Markey for example has previously tweeted that Clearview’s facial recognition technology “poses chilling privacy risks” and he was seeking answers about its partnerships with law enforcement such as the FBI.

Most of Clearview AI customers are US law enforcement agencies who use its facial-recognition software to identify suspects, a New York Times investigation has previously revealed.

But now its entire database of three billion photographs of people has been stolen.

This was revealed when a notification sent to customers was obtained by Daily Beast.

Clearview AI said that an intruder “gained unauthorised access” to its customer list. The hacker also gained access to the number of user accounts those customers had set up, and to the number of searches its customers have conducted.

The notification also said the company’s servers were not breached and that there was “no compromise of Clearview’s systems or network.”

Security breach

Clearview AI reportedly also said it fixed the vulnerability and that the intruder did not obtain any law-enforcement agencies’ search histories.

Tor Ekeland, an attorney for the company, told the Daily Beast that Clearview prioritises security.

“Security is Clearview’s top priority,” he said in a statement. “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.”

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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