Canadian Privacy Commission Says Clearview's App Is Illegal, Tells It To Pack Its Things And Leave

from the pics-and-GTFO dept

Clearview has screwed with the wrong people. The reprehensible facial recognition AI company that sells access to its database of scraped photos and personal info managed to raise the ire of some of the most restrained and polite people in the world, as Kashmir Hill reports for the New York Times.

The facial recognition app Clearview AI is not welcome in Canada and the company that developed it should delete Canadians’ faces from its database, the country’s privacy commissioner said on Wednesday.

“What Clearview does is mass surveillance, and it is illegal,” Commissioner Daniel Therrien said at a news conference. He forcefully denounced the company as putting all of society “continually in a police lineup.”

Clearview does appear to violate Canadian privacy laws, which require consent before using personal data. This was the impetus for a yearlong investigation of Clearview by Canadian privacy commissioners. The company claimed its offering was legal because it only utilized publicly available data scraped from dozens of social media sites. The commission disagreed.

“Information collected from public websites, such as social media or professional profiles, and then used for an unrelated purpose, does not fall under the ‘publicly available’ exception,” according to the report.

Clearview is going to court over this determination, saying it does nothing Google doesn't do and yet Google is still allowed to operate in Canada. Fair point, I guess, but Google doesn't appear to be selling government agencies access to billions of pieces of personal info for them to paw through at their leisure.

And Canadian law enforcement agencies are using Clearview to do just that. The commission noted that "thousands of searches" have been performed by dozens of agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Of course, this doesn't appear to be making Clearview much money. Only one agency actually paid for access. The rest of the "thousands" of searches were performed using trial accounts -- the ones Clearview encourages to "go wild" testing the AI by running it on pictures of friends, families, and anyone else they've got a picture of.

Clearview has already stopped selling access to the Canadian market, but that's not going to fix things. Clearview can control who it provides access to but it's going to have a much more difficult time determining who's in its database. If the illegality finding holds up, Clearview will need to delete information pertaining to Canadian residents. Finding Canadians in a database with billions of data points is something Clearview's AI can't handle, especially since it's much more difficult to determine whose information belongs to who when you've thrown it all into a big pile that's only expected to deliver matches to uploaded photos.

In the meantime, Clearview is offering Canadians the chance to opt out. All they have to do to be removed from Clearview's database is provide the company with personal information it may not have already collected. And then Canadians are asked to trust a company that's acted extremely carelessly and obnoxiously to follow through with its end of the bargain, rather than just add this new information to its existing stash.

For now, Clearview is merely facing the anger of Canadian regulators. There's really no legal force behind the commission's damnation. Not at the moment. But it could change in the future and it would make sense for Clearview to walk away from the mostly untapped Canadian market before it generates laws and legal precedent that would act as a blueprint for bans/removals in other countries.

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Filed Under: canada, facial recognition, privacy
Companies: clearview


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 3:46am

    "Clearview will need to delete information pertaining to Canadian residents"

    I gotta see this

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 4:13am

    Fair point, I guess, but Google doesn't appear to be selling government agencies access to billions of pieces of personal info for them to paw through at their leisure.

    ... what IS Google doing with the information? Providing it for free?

    For that matter, what is Facebook doing with all of its information? Selling access to it to private entities for advertising? Surely the NSA wouldn't stoop to pretending to be an advertiser to get information...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 6:50am

      Re:

      ... what IS Google doing with the information?

      Indexing it, it's what search engines do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Koby (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 6:53am

      Re:

      Fair point, I guess, but Google doesn't appear to be selling government agencies access to billions of pieces of personal info for them to paw through at their leisure.

      ....as far as the public is currently aware.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 8:13pm

      Re:

      Based on what I've seen offered to me to "boost" Facebook Page posts, they use the data they've collected to let advertisers target certain demographics for advertising. This way the actual data doesn't ever leave Facebook. My guess is that Google does something similar with their ad targeting programs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 4:19am

    “Information collected from public websites, such as social media or professional profiles, and then used for an unrelated purpose, does not fall under the ‘publicly available’ exception,” according to the report.

    "Took [information | a service | a device] and then used it for an unintended (but not forbidden) purpose." Sounds like a disruptive technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 9 Feb 2021 @ 9:22am

      Re: Crux...

      This is the crux of the problem with open access social media in particular and the internet in general:

      There is no technical friction preventing information posted for one purpose being abused for something more nefarious.

      Techdirt, I'm wondering if it is even possible to post my picture to my friends who aren't at all geeks and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Sure, clearview is dirt, but I don't see them doing much technically beyond a slick google image search for the lazy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 10:00am

        Re: Re: Crux...

        It's not really a social media issue, the problem with surveillance basically. Just because you are on a public street, does that mean a company is allowed to stalk you, track your movements, scan what you are wearing from surveillance camera and sell that info to advertisers or whatever else they want to do with it? Can Ring sell your image to law enforcement, advertisers, etc? Does just being somewhere public or posting something publicly mean you give your full consent to be exploited?

        It's not disruptive technology, it's not disrupting any existing industry.. It's just testing the laws that protect people's rights. If it's not illegal and most people think it's a violation of their rights you just need to tweak the law

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Christenson, 9 Feb 2021 @ 10:12am

          Re: Re: Re: Crux...

          "you just need to tweak the law" goes right along with "Nerd harder". I get that clearview is scum, but we all depend on google or duckduckgo, and I really don't see the difference legally.

          Copyright law worked reasonably well until...the internet made copying too cheap to meter. Privacy law might work reasonably well...but spying is now almost too cheap to meter.

          We can lock down the IOT dumpster fire, I suppose, but

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            crade (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 10:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Crux...

            The difference between clearview and google is as simple as you stated. Sites want to be indexed by google and they don't want to be by clearview. Thats why every site owner knows how to opt out of being indexed, and basically no one does. Thats also why no one knows how to do so for clearview if it's even possible and everyone wants to

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 4:59am

    If the system was as good as they say, they could eliminate the Canadians from their system in a Thanos-like snap. In reality though, if their efforts for law enforcement are anything to go by, they'll just end up purging 30 million African Americans instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 9 Feb 2021 @ 7:17am

    Just delete any pictures with flannels jackets, hockey helmets and tim hortons cups in the shot that should be close enough.. Also don't let the door hit you on the way out

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 9:57am

    good for Canada! theres a few more things that could/should have the same outcome as well but usually those concerned dont have the minerals to complete the extradition!! not saying that it's the case but usually there're things like 'campaign contributions' involved!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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