Clearview AI’s business model is to scrape images of people from wherever they can on the web. Then sell facial recognition services – mostly to police – based on that database. Some police forces in Canada used their services. But investigations by Canadian Privacy Commissioners and other public outcries resulted in Clearview AI pulling out of the Canadian market.
Readers of our Tech Law Weekly newsletter watched this unfold.
You may have put your picture on your social media profile or your business website – but did you agree to it being harvested into a massive database so you could be identified and tracked everywhere? Put another way, did you agree to be in a 24/7 police lineup?
Faced with pressure from various international sources, Clearview AI started responding to requests to disclose what information they have about you. It wasn’t clear, though, whether in Canada they would if asked take the next step and delete your information. So I decided to see what would happen.
On June 11, 2020 I sent this email to Clearview AI:
Please provide me with copies of whatever personal information you have about me. A headshot is attached. You have permission to use the attached only to facilitate this request, and not to save, use, or share it for any other purpose.
Clearview responded later that day with:
You are receiving this email as a response to your request for data access. Attached is a .PDF file that contains any search results relevant to you that are generated by Clearview search, based on the image that you provided us. The images you shared to facilitate this request have been deleted.
You can click here to learn more about how Clearview collects the images that appear as search results, and how those images are used and shared.
Clearview Privacy Team
The pdf attached to the email had 11 headshots of me, along with links to their sources. Sources included my bios on twitter, the Harrison Pensa website, and my blog, and images from lawyer rating sites, a newspaper article, and other people’s LinkedIn pages.
I responded on June 16 with:
Thank you for providing that.
You do not have my permission to use or share those images or any information related to them in any way. I opt out from such use and sharing.
I also request that you delete all images of me, and all information relating to them.
Three months later, on September 16, I received this response from Clearview:
You are receiving this email as a response to your request for data opt-out or deletion. We have processed your request successfully. Any images of you that we were able to find, based on the image you shared with us to facilitate your request, have been deleted from Clearview’s search results and permanently de-identified. The image/s you shared with us to facilitate your request have been deleted.
Clearview Privacy Team
While Clearview AI may have stopped Canadian sales, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have deleted or stopped using images of Canadians. Or that they have stopped collecting them.
It will be interesting to see the results of the Privacy Commissioners Investigation, which should get answers to those details. And to see how cooperative they are with whatever recommendations the Privacy Commissioners make.
Then layer on top of that whether any PIPEDA reforms, or the anticipated new Ontario privacy law, might affect the Clearview AI collection and use model.