U.S. firm Clearview A.I. fined for illegally collecting images of Brits’ faces

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  • Clearview AI has collected images from the web and social media of people in Britain and elsewhere to create a global online database that can be used by law enforcement for facial recognition.
  • Clearview’s platform allows law enforcement agencies to upload a photo of an individual and match it to photos of that person that are stored in Clearview’s database.
  • Clearview has also been fined by regulators in France, Italy and Australia.

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Clearview AI, a New York-headquartered facial recognition company, has been fined £7.5 million ($9.4 million) by a UK privacy regulator.

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Over the last few years, the firm has collected images from the web and social media of people in Britain and elsewhere to create a global online database that can be used by law enforcement for facial recognition.

The Information Commission’s Office said Monday that the company has breached UK data protection laws.

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The ICO has ordered Clearview to delete data it has on UK residents and banned it from collecting any more. Clearview did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Clearview writes on its website that it has collected more than 20 billion facial images of people around the world. It collects publicly posted images from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, as well as news media, mugshot websites and other open sources. It does so without informing the individuals or asking for their consent.

Clearview’s platform allows law enforcement agencies to upload a photo of an individual and try to match it to photos that are stored in Clearview’s database.
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John Edwards, the UK’s information commissioner, said in a statement: “The company does not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable.”

He added that people expect their personal information to be respected, regardless of where in the world their data is being used.

Clearview has also been fined by regulators in France, Italy and Australia.

The ICO enforcement action comes after a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Clearview doesn’t publish the names of its clients, but BuzzFeed News reported that it had worked with 2,200 law enforcement agencies, companies, and individuals worldwide. Macy’s, Walmart, Bank of America, and Target have all reportedly used the service. CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

In May 2020, Clearview said it would stop working with non-law enforcement entities and private companies amid regulatory scrutiny and potential lawsuits.

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