Mr. Conlyn didn’t learn his savior’s name that Wednesday night in March 2017, nor did the police, who came to the scene and found the body of his friend, Colton Hassut, in the bushes near the crash; he’d been ejected from the car and had died. In the years that followed, the inability to track down that good Samaritan derailed Mr. Conlyn’s life. If Clearview AI, which is based in New York, hadn’t granted his lawyer special access to a facial recognition database of 20 billion faces, Mr. Conlyn might have spent up to 15 years in prison because the police believed he had been the one driving the car. For the last few years, Clearview AI’s tool has been largely restricted to law enforcement, but the company now plans to offer access to public defenders. Hoan Ton-That, the chief executive, said this would help “balance the scales of justice,” but critics of the company are skeptical given the legal and ethical concerns that swirl around Clearview AI’s groundbreaking technology. The company scraped billions of faces from social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and other parts of the web in order to build an app that seeks to unearth every public photo of a person that exists online.
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