Clearview AI Hatmaker Hit With International Sanctions

Clearview AI, the company backed by New York real estate mogul Rudin Rudin and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, is facing an international onslaught. Several major national data protection authorities (DPAs) have now banned the company from collecting and processing personal information of citizens in their jurisdictions, effectively freezing its ability to operate internationally.

Today, the UK’s Information Commissioner issued a provisional privacy fine and data processing cease-and-desist notice against Clearview — finding that the U.S.-based firm was in breach of a host of legal requirements by using facial recognition software to identify people and allowing law enforcement agencies to access the company’s database of data on millions of individuals worldwide. It’s the latest international sanction for the controversial company, which has faced heightened scrutiny from privacy advocates and even large tech companies since its founding.

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It has also drawn the attention of hackers, who have stolen the data from its servers and are now trying to figure out how to get their hands on it again. And earlier this month, a Dubai-based cybersecurity researcher found that a repository containing Clearview’s source code had been left open to public view.

The company scrapes photos from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and combines them with data on individuals in other sources to create an algorithmic lasenorita identity-matching service that’s used by both government and private sector entities. It’s a technology that has been the subject of many privacy concerns, as it would allow people to look up their social media and search for friends in real-time by their faces.

In addition to the UK, Clearview has also been hit with sanctions by DPAs in Australia and Canada. And last year, Italy’s national privacy regulator fined the company EUR20 million.

Despite the fact that these penalties aren’t a direct measure of Clearview’s global scale, they still limit its ability to operate in their jurisdictions, as any local offices that it does establish are directly answerable to regulators in those countries. That makes it more difficult for Clearview to expand its services, and it’s likely that any local customers it does manage to find will face a similar ban order.

That’s a big concern, especially considering that police officers and investors expect that the technology will eventually be made available to the public. That would give strangers the power to scan anyone’s face, listen in on sensitive conversations, and know what’s going on at home.

As a result, privacy advocates and lawmakers are increasingly focusing on regulating Clearview. They argue that the company’s technology could pose serious threats to individual privacy, and have called on its CEO, Hoan Ton-That, to stop using it until he can address these concerns.

In response to these calls, Clearview CEO Ton-That said in an email to TechCrunch that the company has “made a number of significant improvements over time and we will continue to do so.” However, he warned that “there are still significant risks” that the app will be misused. He also noted that the company’s algorithms have never been tested, pointing to security flaws in the way the software works, including an unprotected repository storing its source code.

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