French privacy authority demands Clearview AI flush facial recognition data gathered within its borders


A hot potato: Clearview AI is again under fire for scraping personal information and pictures from the internet. This time, a French regulator is demanding that it delete all data on French nationals stored in the company’s database. The commission threatens hefty fines if Clearview does not comply.

On Thursday, France’s privacy watchdog, the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), demanded that Clearview AI delete all data it has on French citizens. The regulator alleges that the company’s data scraping practices violate the GDPR and other data accessing laws. If Clearview does not comply, the CNIL threatens the highest fines European law allows.

Clearview will likely fight the mandate as it has always maintained that it is within its rights to collect publicly available data from the internet. Indeed, Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That holds to his strongly held belief that his methods are legal and beneficial.

“We only collect public data from the open internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law,” Ton-That told TechCrunch in a written statement regarding France’s demand. “My intentions and those of my company have always been to help communities and their people to live better, safer lives.”

CEO Hoan Ton-That defends his company’s data collection methods on CBS almost two years ago.

The facial recognition company stirred up controversy last year when the New York Times exposed that Clearview scraped user data from social media websites. All the major social media platforms dogpiled on the startup, demanding it cease stealing users’ pictures and other personal information. At the time, company owner and CEO Hoan Ton-That said that he only collects publicly available dat, which resides in a secured database shared only with law enforcement agencies that use the company’s face recognition platform.

Privacy advocates argue that while Ton-That’s data collection might not be illegal, it is unethical. They are also concerned that the images and personal information could end up in the wrong hands. Indeed, shortly after Ton-That defended his company on CBS This Morning in February 2020 (above), someone gained “unauthorized access” to Clearview’s database.

France is only the latest country to mandate Clearview purge its systems of its citizens’ data. In May, five countries, including the UK, France, Austria, Italy, and Greece, filed formal legal complaints against the startup with several EU privacy regulators. Just last month, Australia joined the fight, mandating the company delete any data collected from its people.

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