Shadow Net Series 27: A Clear View Into Dystopia

Hoan Ton-That is an interesting guy. He is an Australian entrepreneur by way of Vietnam, an ex model and he’s possibly created a technology that has destroyed our personal privacy forever.

Per Clearview.ai:

OUR MISSION

Clearview AI is a new research tool used by law enforcement agencies to identify perpetrators and victims of crimes.

Clearview AI’s technology has helped law enforcement track down hundreds of at-large criminals, including pedophiles, terrorists and sex traffickers. It is also used to help exonerate the innocent and identify the victims of crimes including child sex abuse and financial fraud.

Using Clearview AI, law enforcement is able to catch the most dangerous criminals, solve the toughest cold cases and make communities safer, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Sounds pretty good, right? Using technology to take down at-large terrorists, pedophiles and sex traffickers. Everybody can get on board with that. But almost acting as a compendium for the company’s shady business practices their mission statement is very vague. They don’t tell you HOW their technology helps law enforcement catch all of these terrorists and sex traffickers. And that, “how” in this equation is big.

Hoan Ton-That

In 2017 Hoan Ton-That and Richard Schwartz founded Clearview A.I. an American company that provides facial recognition software for commercial use. The company has amassed an impressive database of over THREE BILLION images indexed from all over the internet. Including all major social media sites.

The idea is simple: Collect every photo of everyone on Earth from every angle they can and then develop a software that can match an identity to a face in a security camera or photo and then? Sell it to ANYONE who can afford it.

To say this young company has already had its fair share of controversy would be a gross understatement.

I guess first things first – the pair of entrepreneurs have allegedly been linked to some interesting and downright controversial characters from the beginning. While courting investors they loaned the services to dickhead billionaires left and right. The early Clearview technology was being simply used as a, “plaything for the rich”.

These wealthy potential investors used the technology for pressing matters like identifying their daughter’s boyfriend to make sure she wasn’t dating a, “charlatan”. The software company has also been linked with other shitheads like everybody’s favorite, Jeffrey Epstein and Keebler elf look-a-like, Jeff Sessions.

But who they hung out with before the company took off is just the tip of the iceberg as far as controversy is concerned.

Clearview operated in a shroud of secrecy for years before a New York Times expose titled, “The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It” was released in January 2020 (1).

Following the publication, over forty tech and civil rights organizations sent a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The ACLU had also begun legal proceedings on behalf of the people of the state of Illinois as well.

Software “scraping” photos of users off every social media site in the world unknowingly sounds really illegal and should be but not surprisingly it isn’t. Not surprising only because it seems that most cyber law isn’t legislated until after the act. It’s impossible to predict someone developing a software that stores every single photo of everyone that has ever been on the internet. Which in hindsight always seems obvious. OF COURSE some James Bond Villain type would develop this technology but as they say hindsight is always 20/20.

Ultimately highly unethical but not yet illegal.

Twitter, Facebook and the rest of Big Social eventually responded with cease and desist orders while also demanding the return of all user photos of the respective platforms but I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’re mainly just pissed off they didn’t think of it first.

Hoan Ton-That is far from some sort of strongman and it’s not that Clearview AI is a legal powerhouse but what makes the company so powerful isn’t the company itself. It’s who employs them.

Law enforcement agencies immediately jumped at the chance to utilize the facial recognition software and are Clearview’s largest client. But in late February 2020 the software company suffered a major data breach with hackers leaking their entire client list. No one was surprised to find out that ICE, FBI or the DOJ had been using the software but what did shock many was the amount of private companies already employing the facial recognition service. Businesses like Home Depot, Best Buy and even Madison Square Garden. Most businesses and College campuses that were using it or considering the security measures were met with ferocious backlash and distanced themselves from the company. But not all schools and private businesses.

From WIKIPEDIA:

Commercial and other non-government entities

As the Coronavirus pandemic raged on in April 2020 Clearview even threw its own hat in the ring to offer its services to state’s Department of Health offices to assist with contact tracing.

It seems theres nothing they are not willing to exploit people’s privacy for.

So what are we left with? An invasive and creepy company that keeps the wolf from the door by collecting and selling our heads (and faces) to law enforcement under the ruse of searching for criminals (future or otherwise). We also have a room full of constantly stunned lawmakers that never have the foresight or imagination to look to the future and get ahead of gross oversteps in cyber privacy and security.

Oh and it’s worth noting that despite the company claiming it has up to a 99.6% accuracy rate of identifying people that really only seems to be the case with identifying Caucasian males. Where in a study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology the algorithms falsely identified Asian and African American faces 10 to 100 times more. Sounds like America to me.

(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/18/technology/clearview-privacy-facial-recognition.html

(2) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clearview_AI

(3) https://clearview.ai/

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