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Facial recognition company that scrapes social media sites to be investigated by UK and Australia

Adam Smith
·3-min read

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office and the Australian Information Commissioner have announced a joint investigation into Clearview AI.

The data watchdogs will focus “on the company’s use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals” they said in a statement.

The investigation follows a similar announcement by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which also has opened an investigation into Clearview AI.

“The joint investigation was initiated in the wake of media reports which stated that Clearview AI was using its technology to collect images and make facial recognition available to law enforcement in the context of investigations” the Canadian statement says.

“Reports have also indicated the US-based company provides services in a number of countries to a broad range of organizations, including retailers, financial institutions and various government institutions.”

The company had advised the privacy protection authorities that, in response to their investigation, it would be withdrawing its services from Canada.

Clearview AI is a facial recognition startup which combs through the internet for photos to train its algorithm.

An investigation by The New York Times found that the company’s database contained over 3 billion images, which "goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants."

Many major technologies including Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter sent the company a cease-and-desist letter for violating their policies regarding data collection.

Despite this, the company’s application has been used by the US Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Other large US companies, such as Macy’s, Walmart, Bank of America, and Target have all reportedly used the service.

It since suffered a huge data breach in February 2020, which allowed malicious individuals unauthorised access to the company’s client list.

Many facial recognition companies are ending, or pausing, the development of their facial recognition services following the Black Lives Matter protests that continue in the US.

IBM said it would no longer develop general facial recognition technology while Amazon has placed a moratorium on its Rekognition software for one year.

Last year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology tested 189 algorithms from 99 developers and found that black and Asian faces were ten to 100 times more likely to be falsely identified by the algorithms compared to white faces.

However, Clearview AI has taken a different approach.

“While Amazon, Google, and IBM have decided to exit the marketplace, Clearview AI believes in the mission of responsibly used facial recognition to protect children, victims of financial fraud and other crimes that afflict our communities,” said CEO Hoan Ton-That.

The CEO also claimed that the company’s technology “actually works,” but is “not intended to be used as a surveillance tool relating to protests or under any other circumstances.”

" Clearview AI searches publicly available photos from the internet in accordance with applicable laws," a spokesperson for Clearview AI told The Independent. "It is used to help identify criminal suspects. It’s powerful technology is currently unavailable in UK and Australia. Individuals in these countries can opt-out. We will continue to cooperate with UK’s ICO and Australia’s OAIC."

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