France slaps fine on face recognition firm Clearview AI

France on Thursday slapped a €20-million fine on US firm Clearview AI for breaching privacy laws, as pressure mounts on the controversial facial-recognition platform.

France slaps fine on face recognition firm Clearview AI
The logo of France's information technology watchdog, the National Commission for Information Technology and Civil Liberties (CNIL)(Photo by Eric PIERMONT / AFP)

The company collects images of faces from websites and social media feeds without seeking permission and sells access to its vast database — reportedly around 20 billion pictures — to clients including law enforcement agencies.

Privacy activists around the world have raised objections to the business model, already winning a case in the United States that has forced the firm to stop selling its main database to private clients.

The French complaint to French privacy watchdog CNIL is one of a slew filed by activists across Europe that has already resulted in fines in Italy and Britain.

CNIL ruled last year that Clearview was processing personal data unlawfully and ordered it to stop, but said on Thursday that the firm had not responded.

In addition to the €20-million fine, CNIL once again ordered the firm to stop collecting data from people residing in France and
delete the data it had already collected.

The watchdog said there were “very serious risks to the fundamental rights of the data subjects” and gave the firm two months to comply or begin incurring fines of €100,000 per day.

Clearview boss Hoan Ton-That said in statements emailed to AFP that his company had no clients or premises in France and was not subject to EU privacy law, adding that his firm collected “public data from the open internet” and complied with all standards of privacy.

“There is no way to determine if a person has French citizenship purely from a public photo from the internet, and therefore it is impossible to delete data from French residents,” he added.

Clearview was formed five years ago and has since attracted almost $40 million in funding from investors including prominent Silicon Valley conservative Peter Thiel, according to the Crunchbase website.

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Reader question: What are the rules for selling food you’ve grown or made in France?

If you’ve had a glut of courgettes or tomatoes from your plot, or you want to introduce your neighbours to the joys of a British-style Victoria sponge you might consider selling some food or produce. But you may need a permit first.

Reader question: What are the rules for selling food you’ve grown or made in France?

Garden produce

Under current regulations, the sale of courgettes, lettuces, tomatoes and other produce from home gardens remains tax-free as long as the surface area of your garden does not exceed 500 square metres, is attached to the home, and the sale of goods is not the main professional activity of the person growing and selling it.

That means, if you’ve had a bumper crop, you are free to sell your excess produce, and you’ll often see little stalls of people selling fruit, veg or honey from their gardens, sometimes with a “honesty box” to leave your money in.

According to the French government, the sale of fruit and vegetables from one’s garden falls into the category of “incidental income”. 

If, however, your garden or allotment is separate from your home, income from the sale of crops is taxed as farm income, and you must register as a business – which you must also do if you intend to make growing and selling produce your main source of income.

A smallholders/small farmers regime – micro-bénéfice agricole – is applied if the average income, calculated over three consecutive years, does not exceed €85,800 before tax.

Homemade food

One-off charity bake sales are one thing, but if you want to make and sell cakes or other homemade food for profit, there are specific rules to follow – with fairly hefty punishments, up to and including imprisonment, for failing to respect them. 

One of the first things to do is to declare your activity on the Guichet Unique (One Stop Shop) website and obtain approval if you use any products of animal origin. 

Be aware that you will not get a pitch at a market if your business is not properly registered, complete with a SIRET number and a market trader’s card – known as a carte permettant l’exercice d’activités non sédentaires

The good news is that the card is free from your local chambre de commerce. It just takes a bit of paperwork, and a passport photograph… Then you can make a formal application to the market where you want to trade.

As well as the market trader’s card, you will need:

  • a temporary occupation authorization (AOT);
  • a licence for the sale of takeaway drinks or alcohol, if appropriate;
  • approval from veterinary services, if you’re selling cooked meat-based foods. Professionals must also submit a declaration of handling of foodstuffs of animal origin to the direction départementale chargée de la protection des populations (DDPP) .

If you want to set up a stall or van away from an established market, you will need to visit the local mairie to ask about a pitch, which you may have to pay for.

You must also respect current standards regarding food safety and kitchen hygiene. For example, you have to complete a food safety training course, while your kitchen will be subject to health authority inspections to ensure it meets current hygiene standards, and that you follow safe food handling methods.

All food that you sell must be correctly labelled, with information about ingredients, allergens, and the date of preparation.

If, however, you are already registered as a farmer or local food producer, you can sell foodstuffs related to your farming business under more relaxed rules.