The European Union’s assault on controversial facial image aggregator Clearview AI continued Wednesday, with the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (HDPA) in Greece the latest to penalize the company for violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The HDPA fined the company 20 million euros (U.S. $19.9 million)—a record in the country—for unlawfully processing the biometric data of Greek citizens. The enforcement action also included a ban on Clearview AI’s collection of personal data from data subjects in Greece and required it to delete any data it has already collected from the country’s residents.
The decision (in Greek) against Clearview AI by the HDPA follows similar actions in Italy and the United Kingdom earlier this year. In February, Italy’s DPA, Garante, fined the company €20 million (then-U.S. $22 million) for unlawfully processing the data of Italian citizens, while the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office in May announced a penalty of more than 7.5 million pounds (then-U.S. $9.4 million) regarding the same practices on U.K. citizens. In each case, Clearview AI responded it does not do business in the European Union and is not subject to the GDPR.
The company’s response to the HDPA fine struck a similar tone.
“Clearview AI does not have a place of business in Greece or the EU, it does not have any customers in Greece or the EU, its product has never been used in Greece, and does not undertake any activities that would otherwise mean it is subject to the GDPR,” said Chief Executive Hoan Ton-That in an emailed statement.
U.S.-based Clearview AI’s app allows users to upload an image of an individual’s face and match it to photos of that person’s face collected from the internet. It then links to where the photos appeared. The system is reported to include a database of more than 20 billion images that Clearview AI claims to have taken from various social media platforms and other websites where the information is publicly available.
The EU DPAs contend images belonging to their residents are among that database and accessible to customers in other countries. Therefore, their personal data is being collected and sold without their knowledge or consent.
Throughout the European Union, human rights organizations have worked together to bring forward complaints against Clearview AI to relevant regulators. In Greece, Homo Digitalis issued a statement on the HDPA’s action.
“The €20 million fine imposed by the DPA today is another strong signal against intrusive business models of companies that seek to make money through the illegal processing of personal data,” the group said. “At the same time, it sends a clear message to law enforcement authorities working with companies of this kind that such practices are illegal and grossly violate the rights of data subjects.”
Clearview AI might still face further financial penalties in the European Union. The French DPA in December ordered the company to cease the collection and use of data of persons in French territory, also warning of the potential for a fine.