British and Australian privacy watchdogs said on Friday that they had launched a joint probe into a US software startup able to match images of unknown faces to photos scraped from social media sites.
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that it had opened the investigation, alongside the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), into ‘the personal information handling practices’ of Clearview AI.
The California-based firm has built a stockpile of more than three billion photos which it says it has already signed up to share with hundreds of law enforcement agencies worldwide.
‘(We) have opened a joint investigation into the personal information handling practices of Clearview AI Inc, focusing on the company’s use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals,’ ICO said in a statement.
‘The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalised data environment.’
The move follows the opening of a similar probe by Canada’s privacy watchdog earlier this year.
Clearview AI’s facial recognition app lets its clients upload a photo of an individual and match it to photos of that person in its database.
Company founder Hoan Ton-That has said that the technology has been made available to more than 600 law enforcement agencies globally, raising concerns about police surveillance.
Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube (Google) and LinkedIn (Microsoft) have protested against the unsanctioned use of their users’ photos, but Clearview has reportedly declined to delete them.
A New York Times investigation published in January said the company’s activities ‘could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously’.
The newspaper noted that Google had held back on releasing similar technology because of privacy concerns and the risk of it being misused, citing a statement by its chairman in 2011.
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