Vermont Joins Tide of Lawsuits against Clearview AI

The state of Vermont has sued Clearview AI, a facial recognition company, over its data collection practices. The state has asked Vermont’s Chittenden Superior Court to order Clearview AI to stop collecting the photos and facial recognition data of people living in Vermont. The company scrapes websites and online platforms for users’ pictures, then uses artificial intelligence to map faces. It then collects this data into its facial recognition database, which it sells to various entities, including law enforcement and businesses. Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan claims the company has violated the Vermont Consumer Protection Act and Vermont’s Fraudulent Acquisition of Data Law.

“I am disturbed by this practice, particularly the practice of collecting and selling children’s facial recognition data,” Attorney General Donovan said. “This practice is unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy. I will continue to fight for the privacy of Vermonters, particularly our most vulnerable.”

The complaint declared that Clearview AI’s facial recognition database allows customers to access this data through an app, which allows a user to identify a face, and therefore a person, in a matter of seconds from a photograph. However, no Vermont state or local law enforcement agency has used the app. This data is collected for both children and adults without consent.

The AG has sought civil penalties, restitution, injunctive relief, disgorgement, fees and costs, and other appropriate relief.

Clearview AI has faced its share of trouble recently. It had its entire customer list stolen last month, raising concerns about its privacy and security practices. Clearview AI has also been sued in a class action complaint in January along with multiple other suits for Illinois BIPA and Virginia law violations. Facebook and YouTube previously asked the company to cease scraping from their platforms.

Meanwhile, Clearview AI claims it is not doing anything wrong and that its practices are no different than what traditional search engines do. “Clearview AI operates in a manner similar to search engines like Google and Bing. Clearview AI, however, collects far less data than Google and Bing, because Clearview AI only collects public images and their web address. That’s all,” the company said. “Google, Bing and Facebook collect far more data, including names, addresses, financial and health information and shopping habits.”

Vermont previously sent a cease and desist letter to Clearview AI and also filed a motion for preliminary injunction.