Investors used Clearview AI app as a personal toy for spying on public

Clearview AI marketing materials for law enforcement agencies

“Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich.” That's the title of the New York Times piece, and that's the horrifying reality of how artificial intelligence and facial recognition are already being used in ways that violate your expectations of privacy in the world.

Investors and clients of the facial recognition start-up with ties to the extreme right used an early version of the Clearview AI app on dates and at parties — “and to spy on the public.”

At one time, Clearview AI was trying to put together a nationwide repository of mug shots from the last 15 years. One rich guy used it to do a background check on a man his daughter was having dinner with in a restaurant where he was also eating. He also used it to catch people stealing Haagen-Dazs ice cream from his grocery store locations.

The New York Times identified “multiple individuals with active access to Clearview’s technology who are not law enforcement officials.”

From the story:

And for more than a year before the company became the subject of public scrutiny, the app had been freely used in the wild by the company’s investors, clients and friends.

Those with Clearview logins used facial recognition at parties, on dates and at business gatherings, giving demonstrations of its power for fun or using it to identify people whose names they didn’t know or couldn’t recall.

“As part of the ordinary course of due diligence, we provided trial accounts to potential and current investors, and other strategic partners, so they could test the technology,” said Hoan Ton-That, the company’s co-founder.

Mr. Catsimatidis first heard about Clearview from his friend Richard Schwartz, another founder of the company, who served as an aide to Rudolph W. Giuliani when Mr. Giuliani was mayor of New York. Last summer, Mr. Catsimatidis ran a trial project with Clearview at an East Side Gristedes market. The company used the system to identify known “shoplifters or people who had held up other stores,” Mr. Catsimatidis said.

“People were stealing our Häagen-Dazs. It was a big problem,” he said. He described Clearview as a “good system” that helped security personnel identify problem shoppers.

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Before Clearview Became a Police Tool, It Was a Secret Plaything of the Rich