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Why has UK’s ICO Sued Clearview AI for Obtaining People’s Data?

Clearview AI

In a piece of recent news, Clearview AI has been fined $9.5 Million (£7.55 million) by the UK’s privacy watchdog for illegally scraping the facial images of UK residents from social media and the web. The company was ordered to stop obtaining the data of UK residents and to delete any it has already collected.

Gathering Information without Knowledge

In a statement, UK information commissioner John Edwards said, “The company not only enables identification of those people but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable.” The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) opened a joint investigation with Australia into Clearview AI back in 2020 and issued a preliminary fine of £17 million ($21.4 million) against the company in late 2021. At the time, the office noted that: “Clearview AI Inc’s database are likely to include the data of a substantial number of people from the UK and may have been gathered without people’s knowledge from publicly available information online, including social media platforms.”

In issuing a final injunction, the ICO noted that globally, the company illegally collected more than 20 billion facial images for its database. “Although Clearview AI no longer offers its services to UK organizations, the company has customers in other countries, so the company is still using personal data of UK residents,” it said.

Multiple Complaints against Clearview AI

Clearview AI sells an app that can be used to upload a photo of someone, then try to identify them by checking its database. The data has been used by thousands of public law enforcement agencies, despite the technology being in a legal grey area. Twitter, Google and YouTube have all sent cease-and-desist letters to the company, alleging that it violates their terms of service. Facebook has also demanded that Clearview stop scraping its data.

The company has received complaints from privacy groups in Europe and was hit with a €20 million fine in Italy. In the US, the ACLU sued Clearview for violating Illinois state laws. The company recently settled that lawsuit by agreeing to restrict the use of its database in Illinois, though it will still supply it to federal agencies and other states.

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