The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined American firm Clearview AI £7,552,800 for obtaining images of people in the UK without their consent.
The regulator says that 20 billion images of individuals, here and elsewhere, were collected from the web and social media to create a global online database that could be used for facial recognition.
The ICO has also issued an enforcement notice, ordering Clearview AI to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents that is publicly available on the internet, and to delete the data of UK residents from its systems.
The ICO enforcement action comes after a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which focused on Clearview AI’s use of people’s images, data scraping from the internet and the use of biometric data for facial recognition.
John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, says: “The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable.”
The news follows on from earlier this month when, as reported in The Next Web and The Guardian, the American Civil Liberties Union and Clearview AI reached a legal settlement that’s been hailed as a huge win by both parties.
Clearview AI has agreed to restrict the use of its collection of face images to settle allegations that it collected people’s photos without their consent.
However, the firm’s CEO Hoan Ton-That told CNN in a statement, it makes little difference to the company: “Clearview AI’s posture regarding sales to private entities remains unchanged. We would only sell to private entities in a manner that complies with BIPA [Biometric Information Privacy Act]. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crimes.”
Clearview AI currently works with numerous law enforcement agencies across the world, CBP, ICE, the Pentagon and more.
As the ICO notes in today’s (23 May) announcement, the company provides a service that allows customers, including the police, to upload an image of a person to the company’s app, which is then checked for a match against all the images in the database.
The app then provides a list of images that have similar characteristics with the photo provided by the customer, with a link to the websites from where those images came from.
Given the high number of UK internet and social media users, Clearview AI’s database is likely to include a substantial amount of data from UK residents, which has been gathered without their knowledge.
Although Clearview AI no longer offers its services to UK organisations, the company has customers in other countries, so the company is still using personal data of UK residents.