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Controversial Facial Recognition Firm Clearview AI Raised $8.6 Million

The company’s new funding announcement identifies two previously unknown board members.

Last updated on September 24, 2020, at 7:39 p.m. ET

Posted on September 24, 2020, at 6:46 p.m. ET

Two men in "Make America Great Again" hats stand next to the CEO of Clearview AI; one of the men in hats holds up two middle fingers
Reuters

Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That (far right) celebrating the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI — which has built a 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.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, CEO Hoan Ton-That said that the company is "gratified by the ongoing support from our wide range of diverse investors who are committed to Clearview AI and its mission to help law enforcement solve crimes."

However, the company did not disclose who those investors are.

Got a tip? Email one of the reporters of this story at Ryan.Mac@buzzfeed.com or contact us here.

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 Pitchbook, a private equity investment database. 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 says 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 people “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. Lambert also helped raise money for Texan presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Ted Cruz. In 2015, the money manager left his role with the Texas GOP to join Cruz's budding campaign.

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. Lambert has frequently disparaged the Black Lives Matter protests on his social media profiles, often spreading misinformation about the racial justice movement. In a tweet on May 30, he wrote: "Looks like we’ve gone from a George Floyd protest to George Soros funded riots." In a Facebook post, he compared the movement to China’s Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party.

Lambert told BuzzFeed News he did not want to comment for this story.

Clearview’s technology has already been used in at least one instance to identify a protester. In August, NBC 6 in Florida reported that police had used the facial recognition software to identify an individual who was supposedly throwing rocks during a May 30 protest in downtown Miami following the death of George Floyd in police custody. Mike Gottlieb, an attorney for 25-year-old suspect Oriana Albornoz, later told BuzzFeed News that he had no idea that 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," an ICE spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. They would not say if the facial recognition tool would be used by officers of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the arm of the department responsible for the arrest and deportation of undocumented 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 Vermont Attorney General T.J. 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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