ICO fines Clearview AI £7.5m for illegally harvesting facial recognition data

ICO Clearview

The UK’s data watchdog has slapped US-based facial recognition software company Clearview AI with a £7.5m fine for illegally collecting billions of images of UK people online.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said Clearview collected more than 20 billion images of people’s faces from social media and other internet sources to add to its facial recognition database.

In addition to the fine, the ICO has demanded the New York-headquartered company delete the data collected from UK residents and stop collecting any further data in Britain.

“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,” said the ICO.

“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.”

The Clearview AI fine is one of the first high-profile enforcement actions by John Edwards, the current ICO chief, who took office just a few months ago.

Clearview AI’s app lets users upload photographs to try and identify the person pictured, with the app matching the picture to its database of billions of harvested images and data.

Lee Wolosky, partner at Jenner and Block, representing Clearview AI, said: “While we appreciate the ICO’s desire to reduce their monetary penalty on Clearview AI, we nevertheless stand by our position that the decision to impose any fine is incorrect as a matter of law. Clearview AI is not subject to the ICO’s jurisdiction, and Clearview AI does no business in the UK at this time.”

Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, said in a statement to UKTN that he is “deeply disappointed” that the ICO has “misinterpreted my technology and intentions”.

The Clearview AI chief added that the company only collects “public data from the open internet and complies with all standards of privacy and law”.

Clearview AI fine should be ‘final nail in coffin’ for UK facial recognition

Silkie Carlo, director of the activist group Big Brother Watch, known for its strong opposition to facial recognition technology, said Clearview AI’s fine “should be another nail in the coffin for facial recognition in the UK”.

Carlo added: “Clearview AI has hoarded multiple photos of each and every one of us from the internet and made it available to the highest bidder. The use of facial recognition on billions of photos will end anonymity as we know it.”

Big Brother Watch said the demand for Clearview to delete UK residents’ collected data was “a welcome one” but questioned how easy a demand like that would be to enforce.

“Parliament must now take action on facial recognition and impose an immediate ban on excessive face surveillance.”

Mike Kiser, director of strategy and standards at US identity security company SailPoint, said: “When used responsibly, facial recognition has the potential to increase security and open access to underserved markets. However, Clearview AI is a prime example of how this data is being misused.”

Simon Randall, CEO of video privacy and security company Pimloc, said: “It’s vital that regulators provide a coherent approach to AI firms so they understand how technology can be rolled out and keep people safe at the same time. The technology exists to resolve this, and clear guidance from regulators will encourage people to create technology which meets both the needs of society, and realises the benefits of AI.”