Macy’s Sued For Using Clearview AI’s Facial-Recognition Database

In the latest Clearview AI legal entanglement, plaintiff Isela Carmine filed a putative class action complaint on Wednesday in the Northern District of Illinois against Macy’s for using controversial biometrics company, Clearview AI’s, services to identify herself and other customers and visitors of its stores in Clearview’s facial-recognition database. The plaintiff alleged that this conduct violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act.

Clearview AI has scraped images of people from online to create its online database of more than three billion photographs. Subscribers can use the database to search for and identify a person. The database supposedly “includes the photographs, and personal and private data, including names, home addresses, and work addresses, of millions of Americans.” This information is purportedly obtained without an individual’s consent. Clearview AI uses an individual’s biometrics to identify them and run a comparison. Government agencies and corporations, such as Macy’s, allegedly have subscribed to and used this service.

The plaintiff proffered that Macy’s was “using Clearview’s surveillance database to aid in its operations,” specifically, that Macy’s has “run the identities of over six thousand individual customers through the database.” As a result, when Macy’s runs a search and once the individual is identified Macy’s has access to the individual’s personal details that Clearview has obtained. Macy’s uses its video surveillance then allegedly sends pictures of people who have visited its stores to Clearview AI in order to identify people in those pictures. Clearview runs the photographs through its database to identify those individuals and the individuals’ biometrics are extracted. 

The plaintiff asserted that “Macy’s practice of identifying and tracking their customers using Clearview’s illegal surveillance database is unfair and directly violates each customers’ right to privacy.” Carmine claimed that this alleged conduct violated BIPA, which helps safeguard Illinois’ residents’ biometrics. Under BIPA an entity in possession of biometrics must inform individuals in writing about the capture and use of their biometrics, obtain a written release from the individual, and establish a publicly available written policy and a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the biometrics. The plaintiff alleged that Macy’s has not satisfied BIPA’s requirements. Furthermore, BIPA prohibits a private entity from profiting from the possession of biometrics, the plaintiff alleged that Macy’s is profiting from its possession of biometrics and Macy’s must protect this information. 

The plaintiff also accused Macy’s of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act, claiming that Macy’s does not inform visitors that they will be photographed and their images will be run through Clearview’s database. The plaintiff stated that the “secret identification of its shoppers based on their photographs is an unfair business practice.” The plaintiff concluded that this conduct is illegal and constitutes an invasion of privacy

The plaintiff, represented by Neighborhood Legal LLC and Community Lawyers LLC, has sought declaratory and injunctive relief, an award for damages, costs and fees, and other relief.

The suit against Macy’s is the latest in legal action surrounding Clearview AI. In January The New York Times published an exposé about Clearview AI. Since then, the company has faced a number of lawsuits, including from the ACLU and the state of Vermont, over its practices and alleged legal violations. Facebook and YouTube also requested that Clearview stop scraping their platforms for its database and Clearview AI announced in May that it was cancelling all non-government accounts.