In brief: Clearview AI is back under the microscope again over its data-scraping practices. This time Australia and the UK are jointly looking into the company’s biometric collection methods. As was the concern in the US, the two countries are looking into whether Clearview’s gathering of facial data from social media websites violates personal privacy.
The United Kingdom’s Information Commisioner’s Office (ICO) and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) are investigating the matter but have not released much information regarding the probe’s goals or what the two bodies wish to learn. The only thing known is that the probe pertains to the UK’s Data Protection Act of 2018 and the Australian Privacy Act of 1988. Both the ICO and OAIC have indicated that they are willing to work with other nations with similar concerns.
Clearview AI claims it has a database containing more than one billion images collected primarily from the internet, specifically from websites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The database and the facial recognition software that uses it is sold to law enforcement to identify criminal suspects. However, the collection methods have stirred up a lot of controversy with platforms demanding it halts gathering their users’ data.
The troubles go further than simply “borrowing” biometric information from people without their consent. Earlier this year, Clearview’s database was hacked, exposing its client list, which included notable companies and organizations like the Department of Justice, Macy’s, Best Buy, and foreign governments. Individual personal information was reportedly not leaked.
In another instance of poor security practices, researchers found a repository of information that was not adequately secured. It contained test video surveillance footage and even the software’s source code. The security of biometric data, regardless of how it was obtained, is a liability that the company does not appear willing to face.
Clearview AI is already in the midst of one privacy lawsuit out of Vermont. It is likely going to be facing more in the years to come. Company CEO and inventor of the software Ton-That has maintained that scraping personal information from the open internet is protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution—an argument that is shaky at best (video above). Of course, legal does not equal ethical.