UK data watchdog opens joint probe of controversial tech startup Clearview AI
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office today launched a joint investigation with the Australian data watchdog of Clearview AI, a facial recognition startup.
The ICO said the probe will focus on the data handling practices of Clearview AI, which scrapes data and biometrics of individuals from photos uploaded onto sites such as Facebook.
Clearview AI describes its technology as a tool for law enforcement, scouring the internet for publicly available photos which in turn can be used in facial recognition software to identify potential suspects.
Following the startup’s emergence into the public eye earlier this year, critics have raised concerns about the lack of consent of those whose photos are being scraped, and the potential for misuse of the service.
The New York-based tech firm is also under investigation in Canada, where Clearview AI said it would no longer be offering its facial recognition tools.
The ICO said it is reported that Clearview AI’s system includes a database of more than 3bn images taken from across the internet.
The two watchdogs said they could not comment further while the investigation is ongoing, but that preliminary enquiries had already been made with Clearview AI.
Clearview AI founder Hoan Ton-That said in a statement today that its searches are conducted “in accordance with applicable laws”.
“It is used to help identify criminal suspects. Its 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.”
An investigation by the New York Times in January lifted the lid on the company’s practices, in which Ton-That said Clearview AI had over 600 clients.
It was followed by another investigation by Buzzfeed which revealed the US Department of Justice and companies such as Best Buy and Macy’s were customers of its software.
Clearview AI said in May it would now avoid doing business with non-government organisations, after a number of lawsuits were levied against the firm.