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Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that scraped billions of faces off the internet, was just hit with a data privacy complaint in Europe

Isobel Asher Hamilton   

Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that scraped billions of faces off the internet, was just hit with a data privacy complaint in Europe
  • Controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI was hit with a data privacy complained filed to France's privacy regulator on Wednesday.
  • Clearview AI is a US facial recognition company with a database made up of billions of photos scraped from the internet. It sells access to this database to law enforcement agencies.
  • The complaint was filed by Zoé Vilain, the chief privacy and strategy officer at privacy app Jumbo, after she discovered her face was in Clearview AI's database.
  • Vilain tried to use Europe's GDPR data rules to request access to her information, but claims that Clearview AI was uncooperative in granting access.

Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that built a product it described as a "search engine for faces" by scraping billions of photos off the internet, has been hit by a privacy complaint in Europe.

The complaint was filed with French data privacy regulator (CNIL) on Wednesday by Zoé Vilain, chief privacy and strategy officer at Jumbo Privacy. Jumbo is a startup that helps people manage their privacy on apps and sites.

Clearview AI first came into the public eye in January, when the New York Times published an exposé on the company.

Clearview AI's app allows users to upload a photo of a person, and the app will then use facial recognition to find any other pictures on the internet of that person. The news about Clearview AI drew outrage and concern from critics, as the billions of images used for its database were scraped without the subjects' consent. The firm was hit in February by cease-and-desists from Google and Facebook.

Vilain, who is based in Paris, decided to ask Clearview AI if its database included pictures of herself.

She told Business Insider that after Jumbo sent an initial request on her behalf and then four reminders, Clearview told her that she was in its database.

Jumbo then made a formal subject access request.

Subject access requests are a legal process available to EU citizens under Europe's GDPR privacy regulations, which effectively force companies to tell individuals what data they hold on them and how it is used.

According to Jumbo, Clearview AI did not cooperate with Vilain's request.

"Clearview was extremely uncooperative in our quest to exercise Zoé's legal rights. It took us no less than four months of work, nine email exchanges, photo evidence sent, and many other pieces of personal identification elements provided," Jumbo said in a blog post.

Vilain supplied Clearview AI with her first and last name, her email address, her postal address, and IP address. Jumbo then sent a formal notice to Clearview AI saying it was not complying with its legal obligation to allow Vilain access to and potential deletion of her data.

Clearview AI subsequently sent back a PDF with three photos, one of which was not Vilain, Jumbo claimed.

"As for additional information in regards to who the information had been shared with and their legal basis for the data collection, a link was provided to a one page privacy policy without relevant information," Jumbo added.

The privacy firm then decided to "take the fight to relevant authorities."

The company said: "We have therefore filed a formal complaint this week before the French Data Protection Authority, the CNIL, in order to put Clearview in the spotlight and to be able to properly defend the privacy of its users against these kinds of illegal practices."

Should France's data authority find that Clearview AI has breached European privacy rules, the company could face millions of dollars in fines. Severe breaches can result in fines of up to 20 million euros ($23 million), or 4% of the company's worldwide annual revenue, whichever is higher.

Clearview AI was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Clearview AI is already facing regulatory scrutiny in multiple countries. Canada launched an investigation into the company in February, causing it to shutter its business in Canada earlier this month. Last week the UK and Australia's data watchdogs also announced they were launching a joint probe into the company.


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