Facial Recognition Firm Clearview AI Gets Military Contract for AR Glasses

The contract with the facial recognition firm was specifically for research around "protecting airfields," according to public procurement records.
Air Force base
Image: Lee Corkran/Contributor

Clearview AI, the highly controversial facial recognition firm that scrapes social media to maintain its bank of images, recently signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force to research “augmented reality facial recognition glasses,” according to public procurement records.

The news shows that the firm continues to push into new markets and products, but comes as the company faces opposition, including Canadian authorities demanding that Clearview AI stop the collection and sharing of social media images.

Advertisement

The contract for $49,847 was signed in November, according to the records. Specifically, the record says the item is for “protecting airfields.” It is listed as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) procurement, meaning Clearview AI has been contracted to research the feasibility of such a product.

Jack Poulson from Tech Inquiry first tweeted about the contract on Thursday

Do you know anything else about Clearview AI or any other facial recognition company? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, told Motherboard in a statement that “We value the United States Air Force, and their position in defending the nation’s security and interests. We continually research and develop new technologies, processes, and platforms to meet current and future security challenges, and look forward to any opportunities that would bring us together with the Air Force in that realm. This particular technology remains in R&D, with the end goal being to leverage emerging capabilities to improve overall security.”

Advertisement

He also said that this particular piece of Clearview AI technology is not based on the company's own dataset, without specifying the source of that second dataset. “The implementation is designed around a specific and controlled dataset, rather than Clearview AI’s 10B image dataset. Once realized, we believe this technology will be an excellent fit for numerous security situations.”

Clearview AI sells its products to law enforcement, government, and military agencies. The company scrapes social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram to build a database of images. Then when a customer uses Clearview AI’s accompanying app, they point their smartphone’s camera at a target, and Clearview AI’s system returns a set of suspected matches from those social media images. 

The New York Times previously found that Clearview AI’s app included code that would pair it with augmented reality glasses.

The Air Force in particular has adopted innovative and unconventional technologies. In January Motherboard published Air Force documents that described its hiring of Unity, the game engine developer, to create a dogfighting simulation. 

Clearview AI received a previous SBIR contract with the Air Force

The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment.

Update: This piece has been updated to include comment from Clearview AI.

Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast, CYBER. Subscribe to our new Twitch channel.