Clearview AI Must Delete Images of Brits Scraped Illegally From Social Media

The UK government also fines the facial recognition tech company over $9 million.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Clearview AI must delete data pertaining to UK citizens.

John Lamb/Getty

Facial recognition company Clearview AI must delete all images of people in the UK that it scraped from the internet and social media to create a global database that can be used for facial recognition. In addition to the order, which came from the UK data protection regulator, the company will have to pay a fine of £7.5 million ($9.4 million).

The company also cannot collect any other publicly available data on UK citizens after it was found to be in breach of UK data protection laws, said the Information Commissioner's Office on Monday. The ICO's enforcement action follows a joint privacy investigation into the company with Australian authorities, which was opened in July 2020.

Clearview AI provides a service that allows customers, including police forces, to upload a photo and see if it matches any of the photos Clearview AI has in its database, which contains photos from across the web. The company has come under fire from regulators and digital rights campaigners who have argued this violates people's right to privacy.

"Clearview AI Inc has collected multiple images of people all over the world, including in the UK, from a variety of websites and social media platforms, creating a database with more than 20 billion images," said Information Commissioner John Edwards in a statement. "The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable."

Edwards also noted that international cooperation is crucial to protecting people's privacy, and said he'll be meeting with EU officials in Brussels next week. Meanwhile, in the US, Clearview AI earlier this month agreed to stop selling facial recognition data to private companies and individuals as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ICO's move was welcomed by privacy campaigners, although Silkie Carlo, director rights group Big Brother Watch, noted it might be difficult to enforce, calling on Parliament to ban excessive facial surveillance. "Clearview AI has hoarded multiple photos of each and every one of us from the internet and made it available to the highest bidder," she said in a statement. "The use of facial recognition on billions of photos will end anonymity as we know it."

Clearview AI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.