Clearview Was A Toy For Billionaires Before It Became A Toy For Cops

from the searching-billions-of-images-for-fun-and-profit dept

Clearview's claims that its controversial facial recognition program is only for use by law enforcement agencies continues to be exposed as a lie. Documents obtained by BuzzFeed showed the company has sold its tech to a variety of private companies, including major retailers like Kohl's and Walmart.

It's also expanding its reach across the globe, pitching its products to dozens of countries, including those known mostly for their human rights violations. Even when it limits itself to law enforcement agencies, it still can't help lying -- exaggerating its success and assistance in criminal investigations.

Before Clearview became a plaything for government agencies and private corporations, it was a toy for the rich and powerful. Kashmir Hill -- who broke the first story about Clearview's problematic image-scraping operation -- has a followup in the New York Times detailing the company's unpleasant origin story.

One Tuesday night in October 2018, John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes grocery store chain, was having dinner at Cipriani, an upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, when his daughter, Andrea, walked in. She was on a date with a man Mr. Catsimatidis didn’t recognize. After the couple sat down at another table, Mr. Catsimatidis asked a waiter to go over and take a photo.

Mr. Catsimatidis then uploaded the picture to a facial recognition app, Clearview AI, on his phone. The start-up behind the app has a database of billions of photos, scraped from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Within seconds, Mr. Catsimatidis was viewing a collection of photos of the mystery man, along with the web addresses where they appeared: His daughter’s date was a venture capitalist from San Francisco.

“I wanted to make sure he wasn’t a charlatan,” said Mr. Catsimatidis, who then texted the man’s bio to his daughter.

That's just one anecdote. There are others. Investors approached by Clearview, like venture capitalist Hal Lambert, explored the power of Clearview's app in pretty irresponsible ways. Lambert allowed his school-aged daughters access to the app. And it appears actor/investor Ashton Kutcher was given access to the app. He described an app that sounds exactly like Clearview when he appeared on the YouTube series "Hot Ones" last September.

“I have an app in my phone in my pocket right now. It’s like a beta app,” Mr. Kutcher said. “It’s a facial recognition app. I can hold it up to anybody’s face here and, like, find exactly who you are, what internet accounts you’re on, what they look like. It’s terrifying.”

It is terrifying. And far more people have had access to it than Clearview has admitted. Plenty of potential investors were given access to the app. It's not clear how many still have access, but it appears their use of the app went unmonitored/uncontrolled by Clearview. Understandably, investors want to know if the thing they're looking to invest in works, but Clearview did nothing to ensure this access was limited or used responsibly. That same attitude has carried over to its pitches to law enforcement, which encourages cops to use friends and family members as guinea pigs for tech it claims should only be used for legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Power and responsibility are supposed to go hand-in-hand. There's none of that happening here. Clearview compiled a database by scraping images from hundreds of websites and is now selling this access to pretty much anyone willing to buy it.

Filed Under: billionaires, facial recognition, john catsimatidis
Companies: clearview, clearview ai


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  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 16 Mar 2020 @ 5:55pm

    "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power is kind of neat." -John Lehman

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yet Another Anonii, 17 Mar 2020 @ 4:36am

    What If I am an identity thief?

    When I decide to steal someone's identity and mayhaps, their life's savings, I'll start with searching for my own face. The near hits are all lookalikes to me. The data base offers the names of my next victims, and by all reports, enough bio information to let me find richest to exploit.

    I wonder if one can sue over that facilitation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 6:01am

      Re: What If I am an identity thief?

      IANAL but that case sounds pretty damn dismal. Legally what separates it from the liability of someone looking up your mother's maiden name by tracing your mom's posts to your uncle? All the information is presumambly legal. The fault legally lies with identity thieves unless they were literally marketing it towards identity thieves essentially.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 5:41am

    shhhh...can you hear it?

    biblical prophecy being forfilled...
    Revelation 13:16-17
    And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark on their right hand, or in their forheads:
    And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name...

    No way this tech, nor it's future derivative, will ever be used by the antichrist. Baloney bible stories, right.
    No way technology is moving closer to allowing one individual to surveille citizens and approve/disapprove of their purchases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 5:56am

      It sounds... it sounds... like the blowing of hot air

      Ah, with all the bad news these days the opportunity for a good laugh can be in short supply, thanks for stepping up and offering a perfect target for one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:21am

        Re: It sounds... it sounds... like the blowing of hot air

        cool story bro...
        That's the thing about the truth: you can take, or leave it, but you can't change it. You can't decide the consequences for disagreeing with the truth.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:42am

          Re: Re: It sounds... it sounds... like the blowing of hot air

          Your first and third posts are unrelated.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:43am

          Re: Re: It sounds... it sounds... like the blowing of hot air

          Your first and third posts are unrelated.

          First and third posts in this sub-thread, that is

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 6:12am

    Alternative for facial recognition

    Personally I find the dangers of facial recognition overblown. The two actual risks are from it getting it wrong and being used authoritatively (in a set like this which is likely overtrained to hell and back - no way will it maintain accuracy at full scale). The second is asymmetry if it is actually accurate. Imagine using this app on police officers engaged in abuse and correlating it with other footage and behavior that went uncaught. Yeah that police officer literally participates in neo-nazi marches. That "family values" politician in a trenchcoat was in the sleaziest gay bar in town.

    I won't deny that a tranaition to a transparent society will be uncomfortable, awkward, an probably serially career ruining but it is more sane than the status quo and ironically the only responsible adult action as opposed to sticking our head in the sand with unenforceable bans which power would exempt themselves from. Unfortunately responsible adults are an endangered species it seems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:50am

      Re: Alternative for facial recognition

      I tend to agree with this. Facial recognition tech is here to stay, warts and all. We may as well accept that and set some ground rules before it proliferates any further rather than trying to put the cat back in the bag.
      Want to be less known or visible? Leave a smaller footprint on the net. There is no way to completely avoid being "scannable" now that every driver license or state id photo goes into a facial recog database and there is little to no chance to remove anything from the internet once it is posted. But we can all limit our exposure if it's really that important. So far few if any seem to be doing that so maybe this isn't as big a deal as our first reaction might imply.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 5:12pm

      Re: Alternative for facial recognition

      but it is more sane than the status quo and ironically the only responsible adult action as opposed to sticking our head in the sand with unenforceable bans which power would exempt themselves from.

      Power would exempt themselves from this as well. Don't fool yourself into believing otherwise. Sure it will catch criminals of all kinds, and plenty more will rot in jail indefinitely because society can never rehabilitate only punish, and the criminals that deserve catching the most, those that deserve society's wrath the most, will be the ones the system is designed to protect. The biggest criminals will be the ones running it. Unofficially of course, and they will be the ones that system goes out of it's way to claim are innocent in every accusation. Hell, give them enough time and they will have it doctoring evidence to put away people that they want to disappear.

      The biggest threat is with people being afraid to question it. "I might be next." "They might doctor the evidence against me." If you think that this system will be run in a manner fully transparent to the public you're an idiot. A gullible fool who's exactly the type of person their propaganda is targeting, and you're falling for it. Wishing away the privacy of yourself and others in a false blind faith that it will usher in the utopia of zero criminal activity without fixing any of society's ills and without consequence that you so desperately crave. News flash: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

      Unfortunately responsible adults are an endangered species it seems.

      Must be, considering you sure as hell aren't one of them. A responsible adult would reject such a system. Not only for the huge risk for abuse, but also for the standard it sets for children. What? The idea of "God knows everything you do and will judge you for it" isn't holding enough fear in people anymore, so you decided to throw powerful and corrupt humans into the mix to up the ante? Surveillance isn't a panacea for society's ills. Most criminal activity has a cause, and you'll never reduce it to zero. If you really want to fix things, maybe start with showing some compassion for others, and a willingness to rehabilitate instead of punish. Quit passing laws meant to exclude people from society, and repeal the ones that already exist. Take mental health conditions seriously and allow older people to learn how to socialize properly instead of ridicule them for what they lack. There are plenty of ways to deal with crime that don't involve society losing fundamental freedoms, be a responsible adult and demand those be implemented instead of demanding that crime be reduced for you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 9:34am

    From the “this website sucks balls” dept.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 10:44am

      Re:

      Hello, Mr. Clearview rep! Welcome to the discussion. Too bad the only defense you have for your employer is slinging middle school insults at others.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    R eally O h G reat S urprise!, 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:12am

    gang stalking and SOCMINT

    In the extant online blogs there is a plethora of victims of this type of voyeurism.

    And, a plethora of gang stalking denialists.

    With ZERO surprise, in the "anecdote as evidence" category I think your story is totally lacking evidence, so

    Evidence or GTFO!

    Its just a few "loomies" claiming this shit, right?

    (loomies is a joke I must explain: Google Airloom gang and Gang stalking for the win)

    And, just kidding of course. The fact is that many who are gang stalking victims have documented this level of Silicon Valley/Mossad infiltrated/CIA controlled/ billionaire friendly absurdity before.

    I can provide evidence, if you need it next time you attempt to write about this in a coherent, scientific and falsifiable, non-anecdotal manner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:28am

    like so many things, when the rich and famous use them, it's fine but once others get on the band wagon, those same things are suddenly a scourge for everyone!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wscotty, 17 Mar 2020 @ 5:33pm

    how to

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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