Clearview AI, a New York-headquartered facial recognition company, has been fined £7.5 million ($9.4 million) by a U.K. privacy regulator.
Over the last few years, the firm has collected images from the web and social media of people in Britain and elsewhere to create a global online database that can be used by law enforcement for facial recognition.
The Information Commission’s Office said Monday that the company has breached U.K. data protection laws.
The ICO has ordered Clearview to delete data it has on U.K. residents and banned it from collecting any more.
Clearview writes on its website that it has collected more than 20 billion facial images of people around the world. It collects publicly posted images from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, as well as news media, mugshot websites and other open sources. It does so without informing the individuals or asking for their consent.
Clearview’s platform allows law enforcement agencies to upload a photo of an individual and try to match it to photos that are stored in Clearview’s database.
John Edwards, the U.K.’s information commissioner, said in a statement: “The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable.”
He added that people expect their personal information to be respected, regardless of where in the world their data is being used.
Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, said in a statement that he is deeply disappointed that the ICO has “misinterpreted” his technology and intentions.
“I created the consequential facial recognition technology known the world over,” he said. “My company and I have acted in the best interests of the UK and their people by assisting law enforcement in solving heinous crimes against children, seniors, and other victims of unscrupulous acts.”
He added: “We collect only public data from the open internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law. I am disheartened by the misinterpretation of Clearview AI’s technology to society. I would welcome the opportunity to engage in conversation with leaders and lawmakers so the true value of this technology which has proven so essential to law enforcement can continue to make communities safe.”
Clearview has also been fined by regulators in France, Italy and Australia.
The ICO enforcement action comes after a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Clearview doesn’t publish the names of its clients, but BuzzFeed News reported that it had worked with 2,200 law enforcement agencies, companies, and individuals worldwide. Macy’s, Walmart, Bank of America, and Target have all reportedly used the service. CNBC could not independently verify the reports.
In May 2020, Clearview said it would stop working with non–law enforcement entities and private companies amid regulatory scrutiny and potential lawsuits.
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