Clearview AI's Secret Users Included A Former Trump Staffer, A Troll, And Conservative Think Tanks - 2020-03-11
CEO Hoan Ton-That said his facial recognition app is strictly for law enforcement. But he's shared it with political connections, potential investors, and entities designated as "Friend."
John J. Custer for BuzzFeed News
On a flight to Boston in January, James, a young academic, caught the attention of an aisle mate. "Do you go to school in the area?" the red-bearded man asked James, whose name has been changed to shield his identity, amid other small talk about technology and science. Later, as the plane taxied to its gate at Boston Logan International Airport, the man suggested the two connect on social media. But before James could agree or even give his full name, his fellow passenger pulled out his phone and asked to show him something. He opened an app, snapped a photo of James, and then showed him the phone. The app, which flashed a banner reminding its users not to talk to journalists, populated with a handful of pictures from James' brother's Instagram account. And James' face was in every single one. James was dumbfounded to see himself in so many photos on a stranger's phone. Some of his social media accounts had been set to private, and he had been careful not to post too many photos of himself to the web. But the mysterious app had found him on his brother's Instagram account within seconds. Later that evening, James received a friend request. It was from the bearded man on the plane — Charles C. Johnson, a controversial right-wing activist and accused Holocaust denier with ties to the Trump administration. Johnson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (Following the publication of this story, Johnson denied accusations of Holocaust denial.)