Technology & Science

Clearview AI stops offering facial recognition software in Canada amid privacy probe

A controversial U.S. tech firm will no longer make its facial recognition software available in Canada. A statement issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on Monday said Clearview had advised officials of the move in response to an ongoing investigation by privacy authorities.

Firm under scrutiny since boasting about collecting billions of photos from internet

Clearview AI will no longer provide facial recognition technology in Canada, according to a statement issued the federal privacy commissioner's office Monday. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

Clearview AI, the controversial U.S.-based technology firm, will no longer make its facial recognition software available in Canada. Federal and provincial privacy authorities made the announcement on Monday and then Clearview confirmed it to CBC News. 

A statement issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said Clearview had advised officials of the decision in response to an ongoing investigation by the privacy authorities of Canada, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.

In its announcement Monday, the federal privacy commissioner's office said the joint investigation into Clearview would remain open and that "authorities still plan to issue findings in this matter given the importance of the issue for the privacy rights of Canadians."

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That said, "In response to [the Office of the Privacy Commissioner's] request, Clearview AI has ceased its operations in Canada."

"We are proud of our record in assisting Canadian law enforcement to solve some of the most heinous crimes, including crimes against children. We will continue to co-operate with [the Office of the Privacy Commissioner] on other related issues."

Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario privacy commissioner, called the announcement "great news."

"This shows that we can indeed make a difference and stop privacy-invasive practices," said Cavoukian, who now serves as executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design in Toronto.

The company first came under scrutiny earlier this year when it boasted about collecting billions of photos from the internet to feed its facial recognition app.

Clearview said the tool is meant to allow police to "identify perpetrators and victims of crimes," but privacy advocates worried the technology could fall into the wrong hands or lead to a dystopian future in which anyone can be identified within seconds whether they consent to facial recognition or not.

Software used by police forces

Several law enforcement agencies, from the RCMP to Toronto and Calgary police, acknowledged their members had briefly used the software.

Monday's statement by federal and provincial privacy authorities said the RCMP was "Clearview's last remaining client in Canada" and that the contract would be suspended indefinitely. A separate investigation into the Mounties' use of the software would also continue, the federal privacy watchdog said.

RCMP spokesperson Catherine Fortin confirmed the Mounties' National Child Exploitation Crime Centre "no longer has a license with Clearview AI and has stopped using its software." She did not indicate exactly when the force ended its use of the app.

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Another "ongoing issue under investigation by the authorities is the deletion of the personal information of Canadians that Clearview has already collected, as well as the cessation of Clearview's collection of Canadians' personal information," the federal privacy watchdog's statement said.

CBC News reported in June that while Clearview was offering residents of certain jurisdictions the opportunity to request their data be deleted from the firm's database, it did not appear Canadians were eligible.

Ton-That told CBC News that Canadians will now "be able to opt out of Clearview's search results" without specifying how people could do so.

On Monday afternoon, the company's website still quoted an unnamed "detective constable in the sex crimes unit" of a Canadian law enforcement agency as saying, "Clearview AI is hands-down the best thing that has happened to victim identification in the last 10 years."

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