Digital Brief: Clearview AI raises EU eyebrows

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“The Commission is aware of the press reports, we are following the dossier and remain in close contact with national data protection authorities and the European Data Protection Board.”

– European Commission spokesperson, 12 February.


Clearview AI. The US firm continues to come under pressure over its mass harvesting of biometric data. In response to last week’s reports, the European Commission has revealed that it is in consultation with EU data protection authorities following the news that US technology firm Clearview AI has scraped more than three billion facial images from social media sites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, without obtaining the permission of users.

EURACTIV caught up with GUE Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou, one of several MEPs who have pressed the Commission for more information on how they are looking into Clearview AI’s practices. “It’s good news that the Commission is aware of the reports against Clearview AI, but following closely the case is not enough,” he said.

“EU citizens must be reassured that their data are and will remain safe, as it is proved that Clearview AI is not a member of the 2016 EU-US Privacy Shield agreement, and therefore is not obliged to respect EU standards.”

MWC Cancelled. Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual telecoms industry event that brings more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona, has been cancelled, following a mass withdrawal by exhibitors due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak. Organisers of the event, the GSMA, have previously attempted to appease fears by putting in place additional measures to improve the hygiene of the event. However, after a series of walkouts by some major participants, including Cisco, Intel and Deutsche Telekom, the organisers decided to shelve this year’s gathering.

In other coronavirus news, Twitter has built a new dedicated search prompt in Belgium to combat misinformation about the coronavirus. The initiative forms part of Twitter’s global campaign to combat misinformation on the novel #coronavirus, as explained in a recent Twitter blog post.

Huawei Germany Ban. Staying in the telecoms world, EURACTIV’s Philipp Grüll writes that despite the CDU and CSU not explicitly deciding on the exclusion of Huawei earlier this week, their position paper provided exclusion criteria that could still apply to the Chinese telecom giant. The ball is now in the court of the coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The CDU and the CSU had voted against Huawei’s exclusion from Germany’s 5G infrastructure earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, Vodafone will remove Huawei systems from its EU core network at a cost of €200M over the next five years, after both the UK and EU established new standards recently.

5G in France. With regulator Arcep due to decide by the end of February which operators are the candidates for the new generation of 5G telecommunications, the debate on whether Huawei’s equipment should be used to deploy 5G is starting to become lively. What did the Chinese embassy say? EURACTIV France reports.

5G health impacts. Still on 5G, the European Parliamentary Research Service has been looking into the negative impacts of 5G on human health and the environment. They’ve produced a study here.

Nokia and Ericsson bound for Berlin. The CEOS of Nokia and Ericsson will be meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (13 February).

EURACTIV’s Pekka Vänttinen looks into what this could mean for the shareholders of these two Nordic telecommunications and networking companies.

Google Vs Commission. Wednesday marked an important day for Google, as the US tech giant began a three-day hearing in Luxembourg, appealing a €2.4 billion fine from 2017, the first in a series of major penalties from the European Commission, the EU’s powerful anti-trust regulator. The EU and Google have been locked in battle since 2010 when the Commission first looked into accusations that the search engine was squeezing rivals from results in order to promote ads and Google Shopping, a price comparison service.

For several years, Brussels and the US giant sought a negotiated settlement, but the EU abruptly reversed course in 2014 after the intervention of member states and the arrival of Margrethe Vestager who took over as EU competition chief. Meanwhile, Google faces the risk of more EU antitrust problems after 40 rivals on both sides of the Atlantic accused it of favouring its own vacation rental service on its search engine and urged European Union enforcers to take action.

Competition crackdown. ICYMI, The European Commission is mulling over measures to bolster competition rules for digital services in order to rein in the dominance of global tech giants and foster “technologies that work for people”, a draft communication obtained by EURACTIV reveals.

The document states “existing laws that govern the behaviour of traditional industries need to be adapted to the specific circumstances under which new digital business models operate.”

UK-EU data concerns. The subject of UK-EU data transfers is not going away, as talks between the two parties intensify regarding the possibility of a future trade deal. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said the UK would chart its own path in the field of data protection, and the Commission had been set to start the assessment period for a possible adequacy agreement on February 1.

A Commission spokesperson couldn’t confirm to EURACTIV whether the assessment had already begun, but said the executive would “start an assessment of the adequacy of the UK’s data protection framework as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal, endeavouring to adopt decisions by the end of 2020, if the applicable conditions are met.”

Meanwhile, MEPs in the European Parliament have been raising concerns on the subject. “I am quite worried to see the eagerness of the Commission to issue a so-called “adequacy decision,” when it is far from clear that the UK government can be trusted with our data,” Renew MEP Sophie in’t Veld said in Strasbourg on Tuesday (11 February 2020).

GDPR in Germany. The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has presented its annual report on Data Protection. The report criticises GDPR’s one-stop shop mechanism, calling it “cumbersome, time-consuming and ineffective.”

Meanwhile, the German Federal Data Protection Commissioner has published a paper on anonymisation under the GDPR in the context of the telecoms sector. Read more here.

Online Harms. The UK government has announced plans to grant the country’s broadcasting authority, Ofcom, broad new powers in regulating the spread of harmful content across social media platforms.

The announcement comes as part of the UK’s Online Harms measures which attempt to clamp down on offensive content online. The new legislation aims to enforce a duty of care ‘to keep users safe’ from harmful content on platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, which Ofcom would be responsible for policing.

Media Freedom in Serbia. MEPs have this week highlighted concerns related to the freedom of journalist in Serbia, in the run-up to the country’s parliamentary elections in April. S&D MEP Tanja Fajon said: “We continue to hear concerns expressed by all political actors, experts and civil society about the lack of freedom of the media. Many speak of unfair coverage, biased editorials, abusive language, intimidation and even hate speech.”

Hungarian media investigation. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec writes this week that a media closely linked to Hungary’s ruling party is now under investigation. Police have confirmed that the National Bureau of Investigation (NPU) is conducting pre-trial proceedings regarding the financing of certain media affiliated with the SDS (EPP) party, which is supposed to be funded by a Hungarian businessman who is closely linked to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.

On Twitter, SDS President Janez Janša told Darko Muženič, director of NPU,  that “billions of euros were laundered in the state-owned NLB, and he is now investigating the media that reported on his ‘work’.” SDS has repeatedly denied unauthorised financing from abroad.

Possible link between France and Daphne Caruana Galizia murder? France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the activities of some people suspected to have played a role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist from Malta killed by a car bomb in 2017 after digging into her country’s corruption issues, EURACTIV France reports.

The Financial Prosecutor’s Office is looking into links between economic activities in France and the possible corruption of foreign agents and intends to send the results of its investigation to Maltese authorities. The constitutional and political crisis that ensued from her death led to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stepping down in January.

Freedom of press under attack? The Croatian government has submitted a controversial draft for new media legislation media, which foresees severe penalties for publishing so-called “biased news”. EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan reports.

MEPs present AI package. MEPs belonging to the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee are set to produce a series of reports on the impact of Artificial Intelligence in the EU.

On Tuesday, JURI rapporteurs held a press conference in Strasbourg to mark the beginning of their leadership of a series of own-initiative reports through Parliament.

The EPP’s Axel Voss will be in charge of a report on a Civil liability regime for artificial intelligence, S&D’s Ibán García del Blanco will oversee a text on AI and ethics, while Renew Europe’s Stéphane Séjourné is the rapporteur for a report on Intellectual property rights in the field of Artificial Intelligence.

Voss said the aim of his report is to propose a “working mechanism that covers the entire spectrum of risks,” adding that for facial recognition technologies, “specific measures” are required for the public space, but he wouldn’t support the idea of a ban. For his part, del Blanco said the EU’s approach should employ a principle-based approach that respects fundamental rights. He added a more stringent approach should be taken with AI used in high-risks areas, such as the health sector.

On intellectual property rights, Séjourné said that “the aim for us is to improve the availability of data,” which he said would “help to improve new technologies and innovations.” He added that his report would also seek to address the issue of how people should get remunerated for this new form of wealth-creation.

An exchange of views on all three of JURI’s reports will take place on 18 March, a Parliament official informed EURACTIV.

Socialist digital revolution. Ismail Ertug, vice president of the S&D Group in the European Parliament who is also in charge of the group’s Digital Agenda, has written an op-ed about how Europe’s coming revolution in Artificial Intelligence brings with it a series of new challenges that must be met head-on.

More generally, the S&D group has published a new position paper on its digital priorities, in which they highlight a number of concerns ranging from disinformation to artificial intelligence to digital taxation. Read the paper here.

Meanwhile, the Renew group in the European Parliament have published a position paper on Artificial Intelligence.

Estonia cyber concerns. The fifth edition of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service’s annual report, “International Security and Estonia” has been published.

The document highlights a number of ongoing issues with neighbour Russia and says that in terms of cyber threats, Russia is “very likely to continue” its offences against Western countries.

New Tech Association. Another tech lobby has landed in Brussels, the European Association of Next Generation Telecommunications Innovators (EANGTI), an industry association comprised of SMEs in the telecommunications industry. The group say their main objective is “to ensure that the smaller, very innovative European telco suppliers have a voice and to showcase that these players have already today all the capabilities required to build software-defined 4G and 5G networks.”

GDPR review. The European Commission will present its GDPR review on 22 April, as spotted by Politico.

ENISA map. The EU’s cybersecurity agency, ENISA have produced a handy map that outlines the roles, responsibilities and tasks of EU Institutions and EU Groups in Cybersecurity.

Croatia Lobby Meetings. The Croatian Presidency of the EU have published a list of recent lobby meetings, covering the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. You’ll find the list here.  Facebook and Microsoft both feature.


On my radar

February 19 is set to be one of the most important days in the Commission’s calendar in 2020. The executive will be publishing their Digital & Data strategies, as well as their Artificial Intelligence White Paper. Thierry Breton addresses MEPs in the IMCO committee on the subjects next Wednesday evening.

For background, see our reports on leaked versions of the Digital strategy and the AI White Paper.

Also  – don’t miss the Committee on Legal Affairs meeting on February 18  – there will be an exchange of views on the Digital Services Act, as well as talks on the Parliament’s Artificial Intelligence package.



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