Clearview AI has received sweeping legal complaints over controversial facial scraping in Europe

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Privacy International (PI) and several other European organizations in the field of privacy and digital rights announced today Which they have filed legal complaints against the controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI. The complaints filed in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom say that the company’s method of documenting and collecting data – including images of faces automatically extracted from public websites – is contrary to European privacy law. New York-based Clearview claims to have “built the largest known database of more than 3 billion facial images.”

PI, NYOB, Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights and Homo Digitalis all claim that Clearview’s data collection goes beyond what the average user would expect when using services like Instagram, LinkedIn or YouTube. “Extracting our unique facial features or even sharing them with the police and other companies goes far beyond what we could ever expect as online users,” PI legal assistant Ioannis Kouvakas said in a joint statement.

Clearview AI uses an image scraper to automatically collect publicly available photos of faces on social media and other public websites to build its biometric database. It then sells access to that database – and the ability to identify people – to law enforcement agencies and private companies.

The legality of Clearview AI’s approach to building its facial recognition service is the subject of a number of legal challenges worldwide. Authorities in the UK and Australia opened a privacy probe last year in the company’s data scraping techniques. In February, Canadian privacy commissioners determined that Clearview’s facial scratching is “illegal” and creates a system that “causes widespread harm to all members of society who are constantly in a police lineup.”

Swedish police were fined by the country’s data regulator for using Clearview’s offer to “unlawfully” identify citizens. And in one case in GermanyHamburg’s Data Protection Agency has ordered Clearview to remove the mathematical hash representing a user’s profile after filing a complaint.

In the US, Clearview was sued in 2020 by the American Civil Liberties Union in the state of Illinois for violating the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act. The results of that lawsuit contributed to the company’s decision to stop selling its product to private U.S. companies. Clearview has also faced legal action in Vermont, New York and California.

Privacy International says regulators have three months to respond to the complaints. In the meantime, you can request all the information that Clearview has about you via the email and forms on its site and ask for your face to be omitted from customer searches.