Controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI has been found to have extensive ties to far-right individuals and movements.
Clearview AI has come under scrutiny for scraping billions of photos from across the internet and storing them in a database for powerful facial recognition services. Privacy activists criticise the practice as the people in those images never gave their consent.
“Common law has never recognised a right to privacy for your face,” Clearview AI lawyer Tor Ekeland said recently. “It’s kind of a bizarre argument to make because [your face is the] most public thing out there.”
The company’s facial recognition system is used by over 600 law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, a recent leak revealed its client list also includes commercial businesses like Best Buy and Macy’s.
As if the company’s system wasn’t dystopian enough, an extensive investigation by The Huffington Post has revealed extensive links to some rather unsavoury people and movements.
Clearview AI founder Hoan Ton-That reportedly attended a 2016 dinner with white supremacist Richard Spencer that was organised by Jeff Giesea, a financier of the “alt-right” and associate of Palantir founder Peter Thiel.
Ton-That was also part of a Slack channel run by far-right activist Chuck Johnson, known for running crowdfunding platform WeSearchr that was predominately used by white supremacists. The Slack channel also included the webmaster of neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, and self-avowed “internet troll” Andrew Auernheimer (Auernheimer was among the first clients of Clearview AI lawyer Ekeland).
In January 2017, Chuck Johnson bragged on Facebook that he was “building algorithms to ID all the illegal immigrants for the deportation squads.” A source for Huffington Post said they’d seen Johnson discussing that project with a “bunch of really important people” at Trump’s hotel in DC and introducing them to a man that was likely Ton-That.
According to ex-Breitbart editor and former alt-right member Katie McHugh, Johnson asked to be put in touch with Trump advisor Stephen Miller to pitch a “way to identify every illegal alien in the country.”
Back when Clearview AI was known as Smartcheckr, the firm contracted Douglass Mackey who pitched the company’s technology to anti-Semitic congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for extreme campaign opposition research. Mackey was later found to be the overseer of a racist propaganda operation under the pseudonym of Ricky Vaughn. Ton-That told Huffington Post that Mackey was only contracted for three weeks and wasn’t authorised to make the offer to Nehlen.
An employee of Clearview AI, Marko Jukic, marketed the company’s technology to police departments. Jukic “published many thousands of extremist words on neoreactionary blogs,” according to Huffington Post.
Jukic’s publishings advocated the segregation of Jews, the “generous use” of racial profiling, using military force to “pacify” the “ghettos,” normalising the use of racist terminology, the replacement of democracy with authoritarianism, the assassination of journalists, and praising the ethnonationalism of Putin’s Russia while musing the collapse of the US because of “America’s diversity problem”.
As the founder of Clearview AI, Ton-That claims to have disassociated from far-right views, movements, and individuals. He told Huffington Post that growing up on the internet did not “serve him well” and “there was a period when I explored a range of ideas—not out of belief in any of them, but out of a desire to search for self and place in the world. I have finally found it, and the mission to help make America a safer place.”
You can read Huffington Post’s full investigation into Clearview AI’s far-right links here.
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