The embattled facial recognition firm Clearview AI Inc. has been fined £7.5 million ($9.4 million) by the U.K.’s privacy watchdog for illegally storing images of people.
The company, which has its headquarters in New York City, has faced mounting criticism since its database containing billions of images was breached in 2020. Privacy advocates in the U.S. had much to say about the images, apparently stored illegally, and in May this year, the company agreed to a settlement in the U.S. which forbids Clearview AI from selling its facial recognition technology to most private firms.
The company was doing the same in the U.K., scraping images from the Internet of people’s faces and creating a massive database that can be used to find someone’s identity. The Information Commissioner’s Office, ICO, says such activity is in breach of the country’s data protection laws. It’s now been ordered to stop, although Clearview AI denies any transgression.
“I am deeply disappointed that the U.K. Information Commissioner has misinterpreted my technology and intentions,” said Clearview AI chief executive Hoan Ton-That in a statement. “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.”
Nonetheless, the U.S. and U.K. are joined by Australia, France, and Italy, in demanding that the company delete any data of its citizens. It’s said that Clearview AI has around 20 billion images in its database, which it sold to private companies or government entities – including the police. In the U.K., its customers included the Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Crime Agency.
“The company not only enables identification of those people but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service,” the U.K.’s Information Commissioner John Edwards told the media in a statement. “That is unacceptable. That is why we have acted to protect people in the U.K. by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement notice. People expect that their personal information will be respected, regardless of where in the world their data is being used.”