I Got My File From Clearview AI, and It Freaked Me Out

Here’s how you might be able to get yours

Thomas Smith
Published in
10 min readMar 24, 2020


A photo of a person covering their face with their hands. They are illuminated red, and there are green circles around her.
Photo: Aitor Diago/Getty Images

Have you ever had a moment of paranoia just before posting a photo of yourself (or your kid) on social media?

Maybe you felt a vague sense of unease about making the photo public. Or maybe the nebulous thought occurred to you: “What if someone used this for something?” Perhaps you just had a nagging feeling that sharing an image of yourself made you vulnerable, and opened you up to some unknowable, future threat.

It turns out that your fears were likely justified. Someone really has been monitoring nearly everything you post to the public internet. And they genuinely are doing “something” with it.

The someone is Clearview AI. And the something is this: building a detailed profile about you from the photos you post online, making it searchable using only your face, and then selling it to government agencies and police departments who use it to help track you, identify your face in a crowd, and investigate you — even if you’ve been accused of no crime.

I realize that this sounds like a bunch of conspiracy theory baloney. But it’s not. Clearview AI’s tech is very real, and it’s already in use.

How do I know? Because Clearview has a profile on me. And today I got my hands on it.

Clearview AI was founded in 2017. It’s the brainchild of Australian entrepreneur Hoan Ton-That and former political aide Richard Schwartz. For several years, Clearview essentially operated in the shadows. That was until an early 2020 exposé by the New York Times laid bare its activities and business model.

The Times, not usually an institution prone to hyperbole, wrote that Clearview could “end privacy as we know it.” According to the exposé, the company scrapes public images from the internet. These can come from news articles, public Facebook posts, social media profiles, or multiple other sources. Clearview has apparently slurped up more than 3 billion of these images.

The company then runs its massive database of images through a facial recognition system, identifying all the people in each image based on their faces. The images are then clustered together which allows the company to…