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Apple disables facial recognition app Clearview AI for violating its rules

Audrey Conklin

Apple has disabled a facial recognition app following reports that it violated the tech giant's app distribution rules.

Clearview AI uses artificial intelligence technology to connect photos from its enormous collection pulled from Google, Facebook, Instagram and other social media to specific individuals; it was originally intended for law-enforcement use.

"We are in contact with Apple and working on complying with their terms and conditions," Clearview founder Hoan Ton-That told FOX Business in a statement.

An Apple spokesperson told Buzzfeed News that Clearview has 12 days to respond to accusations that it violated one of the rules of Apple's Developer Enterprise Program, which "allows large organizations to develop and deploy proprietary, internal-use apps to their employees." The rule bars developers from distributing apps to third parties.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FOX Business, but iOS researcher Erik Johnson told BuzzFeed that the Clearview app violated this rule by distributing the app "to their customers."

"This is definitely a violation [of Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program rules]," Johnson told the outlet, "because [Clearview is] distributing it to their customers, which Apple does not like people doing."

The company has come under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and tech leaders alike for its loose rules regarding who can and can't access the billions of photos on the app and connect them to a specific person's identity.

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Ton-That previously told FOX News correspondent Bryan Llenas that the app will never be available to anyone outside law enforcement, but recent reports show a different reality. More than 2,200 public and private entities including more than 600 law enforcement agencies and popular brands like Macy's have used the app, according to a Buzzfeed report published Thursday.

The U.S. government filed a class-action lawsuit in February accusing the company of illegally using people's biometric information pulled from social media profiles without their consent.

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Ton-That told Llenas that the app is 99.6-percent accurate, and the two searched photos on Llenas on the app together to prove its accuracy. After uploading one photo to the app to find matches, 103 photo results came up, including one where he appeared in the background.

Ton-That told Llenas that the app has helped catch thousands of criminals and find child victims of sex trafficking.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other websites that have photos used by Clearview for its search tool have sent cease and desist letters to Ton-That demanding that the use of these photos violates privacy rules.

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