UK fines Clearview AI £7.5M for scraping citizens’ data

Ryan is a senior editor at TechForge Media with over a decade of experience covering the latest technology and interviewing leading industry figures. He can often be sighted at tech conferences with a strong coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other. If it's geeky, he’s probably into it. Find him on Twitter: @Gadget_Ry

Clearview AI has been fined £7.5 million by the UK’s privacy watchdog for scraping the online data of citizens without their explicit consent.

The controversial facial recognition provider has scraped billions of images of people across the web for its system. Understandably, it caught the attention of regulators and rights groups from around the world.

In November 2021, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) imposed a potential fine of just over £17 million on Clearview AI. Today’s announcement suggests Clearview AI got off relatively lightly.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:

“Clearview AI Inc has collected multiple images of people all over the world, including in the UK, from a variety of websites and social media platforms, creating a database with more than 20 billion images.

The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable.

That is why we have acted to protect people in the UK by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement notice.”

The enforcement notice requires Clearview AI to delete all facial recognition data.

UK-Australia joint investigation

A joint investigation by the UK’s ICO and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) was first launched in July 2020.

Angelene Falk, Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner, commented:

“The joint investigation with the ICO has been highly valuable and demonstrates the benefits of data protection regulators collaborating to support effective and proactive regulation. 

The issues raised by Clearview AI’s business practices presented novel concerns in a number of jurisdictions. By partnering together, the OAIC and ICO have been able to contribute to an international position, and shape our global regulatory environment.”

Falk concluded that uploading an image to a social media site “does not unambiguously indicate agreement to collection of that image by an unknown third party for commercial purposes”.

The OAIC ordered Clearview AI to destroy the biometric data it collected of Australians.

“People expect that their personal information will be respected, regardless of where in the world their data is being used. That is why global companies need international enforcement. Working with colleagues around the world helped us take this action and protect people from such intrusive activity,” added Edwards.

“This international cooperation is essential to protect people’s privacy rights in 2022. That means working with regulators in other countries, as we did in this case with our Australian colleagues. And it means working with regulators in Europe, which is why I am meeting them in Brussels this week so we can collaborate to tackle global privacy harms.”

(Photo by quan le on Unsplash)

Related: Clearview AI agrees to restrict sales of its faceprint database

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