Controversial Facial Recognition Firm Clearview AI Raises $8.6 Million

A drawing of a human eye-ball with clearview AI's logo superimposed on it.

John J. Custer for BuzzFeed News

Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI, which has built an image database of more than 3 billion images taken from Facebook, Instagram, and the world’s largest social networking platforms, raised $8.6 million in a recent fundraising round, according to financial documents filed on Thursday.

The fundraising round comes amid a series of legal challenges to Clearview for its alleged violation of various states’ biometric information and data privacy laws, and follows a year in which the company has come under heavy scrutiny for its previously undisclosed relationships with law enforcement agencies and private companies. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed News reported that Clearview’s facial recognition software had been used by more than 2,200 entities ranging from US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the FBI to companies including Macy’s, Walmart and Bank of America.

The financial document, which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, said the company raised $8.625 million in equity sales, though it did not disclose the investors. The minimum accepted from outside investors was $50,000, according to the filing, which noted that the first sale occurred at the beginning of August.

Clearview AI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Clearview has raised very little in funding to date. Before this deal, the company had raised a total of $8.4 million from investors including Kirenaga Partners, a New York-based firm, and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, according to private equity investment database Pitchbook. Thursday’s filing also disclosed the company’s other directors for the first time: Murtaza Akbar of Liberty City Ventures and Hal Lambert, the founder of Point Bridge Capital.

While little is known about Akbar, his LinkedIn said that he’s been a managing partner at Liberty City since at least January 2018. The New York City-based firm has 23 active investments mainly in financial technology and digital currency companies, according to Pitchbook.

Akbar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lambert, a known investor in the company, is a Texas money manager whose company Point Bridge created an exchange-traded fund called MAGA ETF, which allows investors “to invest in 150 companies from the S&P 500 Index whose employees and political action committees (PACs) are highly supportive of Republican candidates.” According to Point Bridge’s website, he served on the Inaugural Committee for President Donald Trump and was the Finance Chair for the Texas GOP.

In March, Lambert told the New York Times that he had demonstrated the Clearview app to friends, despite the company’s insistence that it was for law enforcement use only. On Facebook, Lambert has disparaged Black Lives Matter protests, comparing the movement to China’s Mao Zedong and its communist party.

Lambert did not immediately respond to a message left with an employee at the Point Bridge office.

Clearview’s technology has already been used in at least one instance to identify a protestor. In August, NBC 6 in Florida reported that police had used the facial recognition software to identify an individual for throwing rocks during a May 30 protest in Downtown Miami following the death of George Floyd. Mike Gottleib, an attorney for 25-year-old suspect Oriana Albornoz, later told BuzzFeed News that he had no idea that the Miami police had access to the tool and questioned its accuracy.

Last month, Clearview also signed a $224,000 contract with ICE, one of its largest deals to date.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) use of Clearview Al’s facial recognition technology is primarily used by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents investigating child exploitation and other cybercrime cases, and ICE spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. They would not say if the facial recognition tool would be used by ICE’S Enforcement and Removal Operations, the arm of the department responsible for the apprehension and deportation of undocument immigrants.

As it expands its business, Clearview faces a number of legal hurdles including a class action lawsuit in Illinois over its alleged violations of the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act and a legal challenge from the Vermont Attorney General for allegedly collecting and selling the images of Vermonters.

“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling and will continue litigating this case to protect Vermonters’ privacy rights,” said Attorney General TJ Donovan in a statement earlier this month, following a judge’s ruling that allowed the case to proceed. “Clearview’s practices are disturbing and offend public policy.”

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