Technology & Science

Canadians can now opt out of Clearview AI facial recognition, with a catch

Canadians may now request that they not appear in Clearview AI’s facial recognition search results, days after the controversial U.S.-based firm announced it was pulling out of this country. But anyone making the withdrawal request must submit an image of their own face.

Controversial U.S. firm requests picture to identify other images of any user in database

Clearview AI's software collects images from the internet and allows users to search for matches. (Ascannio/Shutterstock )

Canadians may now request they not appear in Clearview AI's facial recognition search results, days after the controversial U.S.-based firm announced it was pulling out of this country.

Sometime this week, Clearview quietly posted a link on its website allowing Canadian residents to "opt out." The company doesn't ask for individuals' consent before scraping their images from the internet in the first place.

And there's another catch.

Clearview requests a photo of anyone asking to withdraw from search results, even though some may be hesitant to provide further fuel for a company developing facial recognition software.

"To find any Clearview search results that pertain to you (if any), we cannot search by name or any method other than image -- so we need an image of you," the website reads.

Clearview says the supplied photo will not appear in search results and will be "de-identified." But it says it will still maintain a record of the request. The firm also asks for an email address so a confirmation can be sent when the withdrawal request is completed. 

"Deidentification means that Clearview AI retains only a numerical hash of a photo for the sole purpose of removing persons in that photo from search results and preventing further collection," the firm's CEO, Hoan Ton-That told CBC News in an email.

Ton-That has not clarified whether Clearview intends to keep data belonging to Canadians on file despite no longer operating in the country, nor whether photos of Canadians will now be deleted.

The firm's software collects images from the internet and allows users to search for matches. Although the firm says its technology is intended for use by law enforcement agencies to identify criminals and victims, its functions have alarmed privacy advocates.

Clearview says it only obtains data by searching the public web. But internet giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter told Clearview to stop using images taken from their platforms. 

Investigations continue amid scrutiny

Canadian authorities, from the Ontario Provincial Police to officers in Halifax and Edmonton all acknowledged this year they had briefly used the facial recognition app.

The RCMP, Clearview's last existing Canadian client, said this week its National Child Exploitation Crime Centre had stopped using the software.

Clearview's exit from Canada comes amid increased scrutiny of police tactics and growing calls for policing budgets to be redirected to social programs.

Amazon, IBM and Microsoft have all restricted U.S. police use of their facial recognition technology to varying degrees.

Canada's privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien launched a joint probe into Clearview AI earlier this year with his provincial counterparts from Alberta, Quebec and B.C. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien launched a joint investigation earlier this year with his Alberta, B.C. and Quebec counterparts, to determine whether Clearview's software contravenes privacy legislation.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) later said it would also probe the Mounties' use of the technology.

Ton-That suggested this week that the firm's decision to cease operations in Canada came "in response to (the) OPC's request." He wrote Friday that his company "continues to collaborate and dialogue with the OPC."

Privacy regulators in Britain and Australia on Thursday became the latest to jointly investigate the firm, saying their inquiry would focus "on the company's use of 'scraped' data and biometrics of individuals."

CBC News recently reported Clearview would agree to delete images belonging to residents of certain jurisdictions with clear-cut privacy laws, such as California and the European Union. Canadians were not eligible.

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