Facial Recognition App Clearview Faces Global Probe

Clearview AI

Privacy regulators in Australia and the United Kingdom announced a joint investigation Thursday (July 9) into Clearview AI, the New York-based facial recognition software maker.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the probe stems from the way personal information is handled by Clearview and focuses on the company’s use of “scraped” data and biometrics of individuals.

“The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalized data environment,” the agencies said in a statement.

Clearview’s facial recognition app allows users to upload a person’s photo and match it to an online image. It then links to where the photos appeared. The company’s system is reported to include a database of more than 3 billion images that Clearview says have been taken or grabbed from social media platforms and other websites, the regulators said.

The OAIC regulates the Australian Privacy Act, which governs most Australian government agencies and companies with annual revenues of more than $3 million Australian ($2 million), as well as those that trade in personal information.

The ICO is the U.K.’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law. Its mission is to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Clearview could not be reached for comment by PYMNTS.

The company has said on its blog that Clearview’s search engine is only available for law enforcement agencies and security professionals to use as an investigative tool, and its results contain only public information. The app is not available to the public, it said.

Clearview AI’s investigative tool has helped law enforcement solve thousands of serious crimes, including murder, sexual assault, domestic violence and child sexual exploitation cases, the company added.

Still, while Clearview insists it only serves law enforcement, BuzzFeed News reported earlier this year that retailers including Best Buy and Macy’s, and a United Arab Emirates wealth fund, are among the government entities and private businesses listed as clients of the controversial facial recognition startup.

Following publication of the story, Clearview was banned from Apple’s developer program after allegedly violating the iPhone maker’s rules.

Earlier this month, PYMNTS reported TikTok, the short-form mobile video app, is facing scrutiny over its privacy policies. The European Union’s investigative unit will form a task force to examine the Chinese company’s activities following a lawmaker’s concern about its data collection and its security and privacy risks.