Global Privacy Regulators Probe Facial Recognition Firm Clearview AI

The privacy regulators of the UK and Australia have announced a joint investigation into controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI.

“The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have opened a joint investigation into the personal information handling practices of Clearview AI Inc., focusing on the company’s use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals,” a brief statement read.

“The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalized data environment.”

The Manhattan-based software firm leapt to notoriety early this year after a New York Times report claimed that the startup had scraped as many as three billion images from social media sites to add to its database.

That makes it a useful resource for police and intelligence agencies, which can query images they capture against the database. The FBI’s own trove of images is said to contain little more than 600 million.

The report claimed that over 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview AI in the past year alone.

The ICO and OAIC won’t comment while the investigation is taking place, and it’s unclear when they’ll finally report their findings.

Still, the practice of data scraping for such intrusive purposes raises many serious privacy questions, especially under the GDPR, where informed consent usually needs to be given by a data subject for any company to use their personal information, including images.

Clearview AI was in the news more recently, when an unauthorized intruder reportedly stole the firm’s entire client list, the number of user accounts those companies had set up, and the number of searches they’d carried out.

The firm is no longer operating in Canada after privacy authorities there began investigations into its practices.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?