ICO fines Clearview AI £7.5 million

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Clearview AI more than 7.5 million pounds, the equivalent of more than 8.9 million euros. The American company has collected photos of British men and women without explicit permission, which is prohibited under British privacy law. In addition to a million-dollar fine, the company must also remove all images from its database.

That writes the British regulator in a press release.

This is how Clearview AI works

The fine follows a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), the Australian counterpart of ICO. The research focused on scraping the internet to collect profile pictures and biometric data for facial recognition. Scraping is the automatic collection of information from public sources on the Internet.

According to the British privacy watchdog, Clearview AI has stored more than 20 billion profile photos of people in its database. The owners of these images were never notified that their photos were collected to build an immense database.

Investigators can upload a photo of a suspect and then use the database search function to get a name to match the picture. More than 2,400 agencies in the US use this service. The Dutch police have never used Clearview’s facial recognition technology, the then Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives.

Data collected without knowledge

“Given the large number of internet and social media users in the UK, Clearview AI Inc. likely contains a significant amount of data from residents of the United Kingdom, which was collected without their knowledge,” ICO writes.

The regulator says the American technology company no longer offers its services in the United Kingdom. However, photographs and personal data of British men and women are still in the database. In addition to a multimillion-pound fine of £7,552,800, Clearview must therefore also remove all profiles of British residents from its database.

ICO calls for international cooperation

“Clearview AI Inc. has collected multiple images of people around the world, including in the UK, from various websites and social media platforms, creating a database of more than 20 billion images,” said John Edwards of ICO.

He continues his story: “The company not only enables the identification of those people but also effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable. That’s why we’ve taken action to protect people in the UK by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement order.”

Edwards emphasizes that international cooperation is essential to protect people’s privacy. The Australian regulator OAIC, he said, was invaluable to this investigation. Edwards will travel to Brussels this week to discuss how privacy breaches can be tackled worldwide.

European regulators take a stand against Clearview

ICO is not the only body acting against Clearview. The Garante per la Protezione dei Dati Personali  (GPDP) fined the company in March of this year  of 20 million euros  . The Italian regulator concluded that it unlawfully collected and processed biometric data and location data of Italian citizens. The company also violated European privacy laws and was not open and honest about its data collection practices.

Regulators from France, Sweden, Germany, Canada and Australia ordered the company to stop collecting photos of citizens and to delete photos already in the database.

ACLU and Clearview reach settlement

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Clearview earlier this month. The American civil rights movement and the tech company have agreed that Clearview will no longer provide its services to commercial parties in the US. Furthermore, the company will not offer its services in the state of Illinois for the next five years. In the other states, Clearview is allowed to do business with the federal government, government agencies and investigative services.

In addition, Illinois residents may opt out of the company to have their face removed from its profile database. The settlement states that Clearview is earmarking $50,000 to serve ads for this opt-out opportunity.

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