Clearview AI, a company which has built a powerful facial recognition database using images “scraped” from the Internet, has been hit with legal complaints about its practices at five separate European data protection authorities.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office revealed back in July 2020 that it had joined forces with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) for an investigation into how Clearview AI handles personal information, although nothing more has been revealed since.
Now Privacy International, together with Hermes Center for Transparency & Digital Human Rights, Homo Digitalis and Max Schrems-backed organisation NOYB, has filed complaints in France, Austria, Italy, Greece and the UK.
Clearview’s facial recognition app allows users to upload a photo of an individual and match it to photos of that person collected from the Internet. It then links to where the photos appeared. It is reported that the AI system includes a database of more than 3 billion images that Clearview claims to have taken from various social media platforms and other websites.
A report by Buzzfeed last year claimed that a number of UK law enforcement agencies had registered with Clearview, including the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency as well as other regional police forces. At the time, the Met denied it had used Clearview’s services.
The new complaints allege that Clearview’s use of images, including those from people’s social media accounts, to offer biometrics services to private companies and law enforcement breach GDPR and also “threaten the open character of the Internet and the numerous rights and freedoms it enables”.
Privacy International legal officer Ioannis Kouvakas said: “European data protection laws are very clear when it comes to the purposes companies can use our data for. Extracting our unique facial features or even sharing them with the police and other companies goes far beyond what we could ever expect as online users.”
NOYB lawyer Alan Dahi added: “Just because something is ‘online’ does not mean it is fair game to be appropriated by others in any which way they want to – neither morally nor legally.”
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