WORK­ING THE CROWD

Fast Company - - Next - ED­I­TORS@FAST­COM­PANY.COM

THE MID-AU­GUST SUN IS UN­KIND AS

Thun­dreds of base­ball fans—fresh off the equally op­pres­sive Bronx sub­way plat­form— stand in a line at Gate 6 out­side Yan­kee Sta­dium clench­ing bot­tled wa­ters. While they wait to empty their pock­ets, open their purses, and walk through one of the mag­netron scan­ners to see their home team take a beat­ing from the Tampa Bay Rays, a mid­dleaged man zips past the queue through a sep­a­rate lane and presses his fin­gers against a screen at a kiosk with the word CLEAR em­bla­zoned on the sides in blue. I flag him down. The 50-year-old is a New York City res­i­dent and three-year mem­ber of the Clear pro­gram. Was he con­cerned at all, I ask, about giv­ing a pri­vate com­pany his fin­ger­prints sim­ply for the abil­ity to skip a line?

He seems sur­prised by my ques­tion. “Clear hav­ing my fin­ger­prints is the least of my wor­ries,” he says. “I’m more wor­ried about my com­puter get­ting hacked or some­thing.”

Amer­i­cans re­ally hate lines. Clear, the New York–based com­pany that counts mil­lions of U.S. cit­i­zens (or le­gal res­i­dents) as loyal cus­tomers, is bet­ting that the perk we en­joy for hand­ing com­pa­nies our GPS data, con­tacts, pass­words, and home ad­dress—con­ve­nience— will also en­tice more of us to fork over the last piece of per­sonal data we re­tain in the dig­i­tal age: our bod­ies. Af­ter per­suad­ing mem­bers to trust it with their fin­ger­prints, irises, and faces (for $179 an­nu­ally), Clear treats them to speed­ier, more seam­less ex­pe­ri­ences at an in­creas­ing num­ber of places known for con­ges­tion and in­ef­fi­ciency. Clear’s rev­enue more than dou­bled in the past year, and the com­pany be­came prof­itable in the fourth quar­ter of 2017. Its bio­met­ric ser­vice en­ables fliers at 25 U.S. air­ports to skip the line for ID ver­i­fi­ca­tion and scurry straight to the scan, while sports and en­ter­tain­ment fans who at­tend its 14 part­ner venues can by­pass those sweaty se­cu­rity queues.

A few days af­ter my visit to Yan­kee Sta­dium, I meet Clear co­founder and CEO Caryn Sei­d­man-becker in a monochro­matic con­fer­ence room at the com­pany’s Fifth Av­enue head­quar­ters in Mid­town Man­hat­tan. She’s sport­ing a chic bolero jacket over a tee that reads LOVE IS THE AN­SWER. I ask her to ex­plain her vi­sion for how Clear can use our bio­met­ric data (fin­ger­prints, irises, faces, and voices) to change the world, and be­fore she an­swers, she ex­tends an in­dex fin­ger and says, “Hold that thought for one sec­ond,” then re­trieves her white leather wal­let and holds it aloft. “This? This. Makes. No. Sense,” she says, brak­ing af­ter each word. She flings the con­tents of the wal­let—in­sur­ance card, Global En­try card, driver’s li­cense—across the con­fer­ence room ta­ble. The plat­inum and gold Amexes land with a thud in front of me.

“If you were start­ing the world to­day, you wouldn’t do this,” Sei­d­man-becker says. “Es­to­nia [has] 1.6 mil­lion dig­i­tal iden­ti­ties, dig­i­tal cit­i­zens, who are bio­met­ri­cally con­nected at birth. I’m not sug­gest­ing that, but I am sug­gest­ing that you are you.”

Clear has its ori­gins in a com­pany called Ver­i­fied Iden­tity Pass (V.I.P.), which was founded by jour­nal­ist/au­thor/en­tre­pre­neur Steven Brill to let its mem­bers by­pass se­cu­rity lines us­ing a smart card re­in­forced with their bio­met­ric data. In 2009, af­ter rais­ing $90 mil­lion and amass­ing some 200,000 users, the com­pany went bank­rupt, un­able to re­cover from the rep­u­ta­tional blow it suf­fered af­ter los­ing a lap­top con­tain­ing the per­sonal data of some 33,000 mem­bers.

Sei­d­man-becker and her Clear co­founder and pres­i­dent, Ken Cor­nick, swooped in with $6 mil­lion, much of it their own cap­i­tal. The duo had be­come in­ter­ested in home­land-de­fense tech­nolo­gies as co­founders of Ari­ence Cap­i­tal, a hedge fund that they shut­tered in 2008 to look for in­ter­est­ing busi­nesses to buy in the wake of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. (“I al­ways said I didn’t want to die and [just] have peo­ple say I picked good stocks,” muses Sei­d­man-becker.) The part­ner­ship they forged with Delta Air Lines was in­stru­men­tal in the com­pany’s turn­around: The air­line pur­chased 5% of Clear and

helped it slip into some of the most traf­ficked Delta-op­er­ated ter­mi­nals in the world, such as those in At­lanta’s Harts­field-jack­son air­port. In ad­di­tion to an­nual mem­ber­ship fees, Clear col­lects pay­ments from some air­ports ($2.15 mil­lion over five years from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Wash­ing­ton Air­ports Au­thor­ity, for ex­am­ple) while of­fer­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing tran­sit part­ners a per­cent­age of fees from mem­bers in each air­port’s re­gion.

The for­mula has been wildly suc­cess­ful: Mem­ber­ship has grown from 500,000 in 2016 to nearly 3 mil­lion to­day, and the com­pany boasts a 90% cus­tomer-re­ten­tion rate. “Peo­ple love travel, but they don’t love trav­el­ing,” Sei­d­man-becker says. “[With Clear,] you know that you’re go­ing to get through an air­port’s se­cu­rity in less than five min­utes.”

Clear’s only do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion at air­ports is the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ser­vice TSA Precheck, which has more mem­bers (7 mil­lion), and is much cheaper ($85 for five years) and more widely avail­able (200plus air­ports). An­other pro­gram,

Global En­try, is run by the U.S.

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion ser­vice to ex­pe­dite pas­sage of in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers en­ter­ing the United States. Precheck and Global En­try both col­lect fin­ger­prints from par­tic­i­pat­ing trav­el­ers but un­like Clear do not cap­ture iris or fa­cial scans. All three of the ser­vices—precheck,

Global En­try, and Clear—worked with the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to de­velop tools that could pre­dict the threat level of in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers, the

“known trav­eler” model.

Clear is cur­rently ex­per­i­ment­ing with an adap­ta­tion of this model that could be de­ployed at a vast num­ber of non-air­port venues. “In travel, pre­screen­ing pro­grams like Precheck and Global

En­try cre­ate known trav­el­ers,”

Clear said in a state­ment to Fast

Com­pany. “As a qual­i­fied anti-ter­ror­ism tech­nol­ogy, Clear be­lieves cre­at­ing known fan pro­grams can con­tinue to make ex­pe­ri­ences safer and eas­ier.” A for­mer

Clear ex­ec­u­tive put it this way: “If you wanted to do pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics to show who at a sta­dium is more likely to bring a gun in, they have the abil­ity to do that.”

Kevin Lupowitz was Clear’s chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer from De­cem­ber 2012 to Novem­ber 2017 and worked with the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to re­fine Clear’s known-trav­eler pre­dic­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “That al­go­rithm it­self was safety-act cer­ti­fied by Home­land Se­cu­rity,” says Lupowitz. “It got used for MLB.”

Clear is also work­ing with Delta to au­to­mate what Sei­d­man­becker calls the “curb to gate” ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­cludes bag­gage check and en­try into the air­line’s Sky Club lounges. In Au­gust, it launched an age-ver­i­fy­ing de­vice for sports venues that lets fans pay for con­ces­sions—in­clud­ing al­co­hol—by fin­ger­print. The sys­tem is cur­rently in oper­a­tion with the Seat­tle Sea­hawks, Sounders, and Mariners teams. The Mariners also use Clear’s gate-en­try ser­vices, which re­duces se­cu­rity pas­sage for mem­bers to a minute, ver­sus 5 to 10 min­utes at reg­u­lar gates, ac­cord­ing to Trevor Gooby, the Mariners’ se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions. Clear is also court­ing the ride-hail­ing and auto sec­tors, ex­tend­ing its scope into a home-to-gate ser­vice: It has pend­ing deals in the rental-car in­dus­try, and a re­cent part­ner­ship with Lyft in­cludes a three­month free Clear trial and a $20 credit to­ward a ride to the air­port. Sei­d­man-becker, a for­mer board mem­ber for Mount Si­nai’s pe­di­atric di­vi­sion, even has her sights on health­care, real es­tate, and ed­u­ca­tion.

“The doc­tor Xeroxes this,” she says, crum­pling her lam­i­nated health in­sur­ance card. “Why? It should be seam­less, more se­cure, and more eco­nom­i­cally ef­fi­cient.”

Clear’s as­cent has par­al­leled

a grow­ing anx­i­ety among con­sumers over how much of their data pri­vate com­pa­nies are col­lect­ing, how they’re us­ing it, and how they’re pro­tect­ing it. Or fail­ing to. This year alone has pro­duced mul­ti­ple five-alarm breaches, from the hack of Un­der Ar­mour’s My­fit­ness­pal app, in which crim­i­nals ac­cessed the user­names, email ad­dresses, and pass­words of 150 mil­lion mem­bers, to Face­book’s mon­u­men­tal dis­clo­sure that the po­lit­i­cal firm

Clear

Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica had har­vested the per­sonal data and so­cial ac­tiv­ity of up to 87 mil­lion of the plat­form’s users. More re­cently, Ama­zon has been pub­licly as­sailed by the ACLU, mem­bers of Congress, and pri­vacy ac­tivists for sell­ing an er­ror-prone fa­cial­recog­ni­tion pro­gram to po­lice.

Bio­met­rics may prom­ise greater se­cu­rity than a user­name and pass­word, but they “are not a panacea,” warns Ashkan Soltani, a pri­vacy and se­cu­rity re­searcher who pre­vi­ously served as chief tech­nol­o­gist for the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion. “Once it’s been com­pro­mised, it’s for­ever bro­ken.” Cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­perts looked on in hor­ror, for ex­am­ple, when the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment re­vealed in 2015 that hack­ers had com­pro­mised nearly 6 mil­lion fin­ger­prints of fed­eral em­ploy­ees.

“We’re liv­ing in a sur­veil­lance econ­omy,” says Adam Levin, co­founder and chair­man of cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm Cy­ber­scout, who also served as the di­rec­tor of the New Jersey Di­vi­sion of Con­sumer Af­fairs and au­thored the cy­ber­se­cu­rity best seller Swiped. “Ev­ery­thing we do is be­ing tracked, gath­ered, and dis­sem­i­nated. The ques­tion is, What are the un­in­tended con­se­quences? Of­ten­times the se­cu­rity re­quired to pro­tect tech­nol­ogy may not be catch­ing up fast enough.”

Clear’s stor­age plat­form runs on Ama­zon Web Ser­vices, and ex­ec­u­tives say the com­pany em­ploys deep lay­ers of pro­tec­tion for mem­bers’ data: The bio­met­ric cap­tures are en­crypted in stor­age; when they’re trans­ferred, they’re con­verted into nu­mer­i­cal form rather than saved as im­ages, so as to thwart re­verse en­gi­neer­ing. “We feel very good about our se­cu­rity pos­ture,” says Cor­nick.

Clear spokes­peo­ple em­pha­size that its pre­dic­tive tools are com­pletely sep­a­rate from its bio­met­rics busi­ness. Both Lupowitz and a com­pany spokesper­son stressed that the pre­dic­tive mod­els are de­rived solely from pub­licly avail­able data, not Clear mem­ber data. And com­pany spokes­peo­ple af­firmed that Clear does not plan to use mem­bers’ data in the fu­ture for its pre­dic­tive-an­a­lyt­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Soltani also raises ques­tions about the ethics be­hind Clear’s mar­ket­ing. “When pas­sen­gers are faced with the choice of miss­ing their flight or hand­ing over sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, of­ten­times it’s an easy choice to just go ahead and trust this com­pany,” says Soltani. “[They’re] con­vinc­ing con­sumers when they’re at their weak­est and most des­per­ate.”

Sei­d­man-becker ac­knowl­edges that Clear po­si­tions it­self as a life­line when fliers are of­ten ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety. “You see the line, or you’re think­ing about how stressed you were, and you en­roll im­me­di­ately right there,” she says. “No­body wakes up and says, ‘Gee, I gotta get some bio­met­ric se­cu­rity to­day.’ ”

Many ex­perts are call­ing for ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tion. “We are at a piv­otal point where we need to push govern­ment to place re­stric­tions on how com­pa­nies can col­lect, use, and share bio­met­ric info,” says Jen­nifer Lynch, se­nior staff at­tor­ney for the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion.

Al­though there are cur­rently no fed­eral reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing bio­met­ric col­lec­tion, a hand­ful of states have taken ac­tion. Illi­nois was the first: In 2008, it en­acted a law that pro­hibits or­ga­ni­za­tions from sell­ing any bio­met­ric data col­lected, as well as from dis­clos­ing that data un­less they re­ceive a sub­poena or an in­di­vid­ual’s con­sent. Other states have fol­lowed, in­clud­ing Texas, Wash­ing­ton, and, most re­sound­ingly, Cal­i­for­nia, which passed a sweep­ing Con­sumer Pri­vacy Act in June that cov­ers bio­met­ric, ge­olo­ca­tion, and in­ter­net ac­tiv­ity data and was largely seen as a re­buke of the in­va­sive in­for­ma­tion-slurp­ing tac­tics of com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google. “The hope is that it’s a model bill for other states, the same way that the GDPR [Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion] has set the stage in the in­ter­na­tional con­text,” says Soltani, who helped craft the orig­i­nal bal­lot pro­posal.

As Clear sees it, con­cerns about data pri­vacy and cy­ber­se­cu­rity are ac­tu­ally set­ting the stage for growth. “We’re happy that the con­ver­sa­tion right now is amped up,” says Sei­d­man-becker. “We un­der­stand and agree with peo­ple’s out­rage at what hap­pened at Face­book. We don’t think peo­ple’s bio­met­rics or data should be used un­know­ingly.”

Clear will have to nav­i­gate an in­creas­ingly com­plex reg­u­la­tory land­scape. Sei­d­man­becker has watched Uber, Airbnb, and other par­a­digm-wreck­ing com­pa­nies adopt ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ships with reg­u­la­tors—even Ver­i­fied Iden­tity Pass once tus­sled with the govern­ment—but she says she plans to take a more col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach, work­ing with Congress, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, gov­er­nors, and may­ors.

“We’re try­ing to make this coun­try safer,” she says. When we con­clude our con­ver­sa­tion in Clear’s im­mac­u­late white con­fer­ence room, she leads me out through glass doors on which a sin­gle word has been ap­plied over and over again in translu­cent serif type­face: INDEFATIGABLE.

Clear will speed you through long lines at the sta­dium or air­port. All it costs is $179—and your per­sonal bio­met­ric data.

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