OAIC and ICO's investigation into Clearview AI's data scraping practices


On 9 July 2020, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that they were commencing a joint investigation into Clearview AI Inc. 

Clearview provides facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies around the world. Clearview’s app allows users to upload a photo of an individual, and the user will receive other photos of that individual that are contained in Clearview’s photo storage. The app will also provide links to where it accessed the photos. Clearview’s app has a collection of around 3 billion photos collected from the internet and many social media platforms.  

Clearview describes the technology as combining ‘the most accurate facial identification software worldwide with the single biggest proprietary database of facial images to help you find the suspects you’re looking for.’ 

The app was designed to help law enforcement agencies easily identify perpetrators and victims of crimes. However, the platform has received heavy backlash from the media claiming its method of ‘scraping’ and storing data from the internet and social media platforms is a major breach of privacy. 

Background to the investigation 

Canadian authorities commenced an investigation into Clearview AI and associated privacy concerns in February 2020 following media reports that the company was collecting and storing private data without consent. 

Following the concerned media reports, many popular social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have also demanded that Clearview cease ‘scraping’ images from their platforms, claiming that the process contravenes their privacy policies and terms of use.  

OAIC announced that its investigation was ‘focusing on the company’s use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals’ and that ‘[t]he investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalised data environment.’ 

However, regulatory policy is such that further information will not be released until the investigation is concluded so watch this space.