Walmart Faces Class Action Suit for Use of Clearview AI’s Facial Recognition Database

Retail giant Walmart is facing yet another lawsuit, this time alleging that the company violated Illinois' Biometric Privacy Act by improperly using "cameras and advanced video surveillance systems," as well as the software and database provided by the facial recognition company Clearview AI.

Walmart’s Illinois stores are being accused by plaintiff James Luthe, a citizen of Illinois, of unlawfully collecting, storing, and using biometric data without his or other customers’ informed written consent and without the proper data retention and destruction policies.

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"Walmart's stores in Illinois are outfitted with cameras and advanced video surveillance systems that – unbeknownst to customers – surreptitiously collect, possess, or otherwise obtain Biometric Data," the filing says. "In addition, Walmart uses software provided by Clearview AI, Inc. to match facial scans taken in its Illinois stores with billions of facial scans maintained within Clearview's massive facial recognition database."

The Illinois's Biometric Information Privacy Act has already been cited previously in a lawsuit against Facebook (now Meta). In 2020, the company was slapped with a $550 million fine in a settlement agreement. The aforementioned act protects Illinois residents from having pictures of faces sold without their consent.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other organizations filed suit against Clearview in February 2020 also alleging the company was violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. A settlement in that lawsuit was reached in May, and per the terms of the settlement Clearview is not allowed to sell its database of 20 million faces scraped from the internet to U.S.-based private entities and businesses.

The initial filing in the suit against Walmart implies that Clearview may have violated the terms agreed upon in the settlement of the ACLU case. If Walmart indeed used or accessed Clearview’s database of faces after the settlement, this would be a violation of the terms.

"On information and belief, each Illinois Walmart location entered into by Plaintiff is equipped with a facial recognition-enabled video surveillance system," the filing reads.

A Walmart spokesperson has stated that the company is "not a Clearview client," while Clearview has declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, BuzzFeed News has reported that in the past, Clearview has given its software to more than 200 private entities, including Walmart, Bank of America, Equinox, and many other companies, and employees from these companies collectively ran several thousand searches using the database.

"It is our understanding we briefly evaluated a demo version of their product and did not move forward with it," the spokesperson for Walmart said. "We will respond with the Court as appropriate."