The United Kingdom and Australian governments are doing an investigation into the data privacy practices of United States-based facial recognition company Clearview AI, said CNBC. The firm was revealed to have been scraping social media platforms for images.
The company, which law enforcement agencies use to identify criminals through facial recognition, has created a database full of images of people’s faces from sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The firm conducted this activity without informing the people involved, thus, doing so without consent. Sources say that Clearview’s database was built by scraping over 3 billion images from various places on the internet.
Clearview AI’s clientele is primarily composed of law enforcement agencies, companies, and individuals across the globe. Reports did not reveal a list of clients, but Macy’s, Target, Walmart, and Bank of America have allegedly used the service.
CNet said that the company’s data scraping practices have been revealed after a New York Times article tackled the story.
Data watchdogs from the UK and Australia, namely the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), respectively, have launched an investigation into Clearview’s practices.
The ICO’s statement noted that the probe will focus “on the company’s use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals.” Overall, “the investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalized data environment.”
The ICO and OAIC will be investigating whether the firm’s practices have violated their respective data privacy acts namely the Data Protection Act and the Australian Privacy Act.
This is not the first time that Clearview has received attention from organizations across the world. The European Data Protection Board has issued a warning to the company saying that it is possible that its ‘scraping’ practices are illegal in Europe.
Moreover, tech companies such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have all issued cease-and-desist letters to Clearview after learning that it was using their platforms to scrape images.
Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That acknowledged the investigation and said that the firm would be cooperating. Ton-That also defended the company saying that it “searches publicly available photos from the internet in accordance with applicable laws.”
Moreover, the firm’s services are available in 26 countries, but not currently in the UK and Australia. He also noted that individuals can opt-out, which can be done by submitting a photo of themselves for permanent keeping.