Clearview AI: The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy As We Know It

Clearview AI: The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy As We Know It

Ricky Vaughn is back in the news.

New York Times:

“Until recently, Hoan Ton-That’s greatest hits included an obscure iPhone game and an app that let people put Donald Trump’s distinctive yellow hair on their own photos.Then Mr. Ton-That — an Australian techie and onetime model — did something momentous: He invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and provided it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system — whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites — goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants. …In addition to Mr. Ton-That, Clearview was founded by Richard Schwartz — who was an aide to Rudolph W. Giuliani when he was mayor of New York — and backed financially by Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist behind Facebook and Palantir. …”


“Originally known as Smartcheckr, Clearview was the result of an unlikely partnership between Ton-That, a small-time hacker turned serial app developer, and Richard Schwartz, a former adviser to then–New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Ton-That told the Times that they met at a 2016 event at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, after which they decided to build a facial recognition company. …By the election, Ton-That was on the Trump train, attending an election night event where he was photographed with Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson. The following February, Smartcheckr LLC was registered in New York, with Ton-That telling the Times that he developed the image-scraping tools while Schwartz covered the operating costs. By August that year, they registered Clearview AI in Delaware, according to incorporation documents. …While there’s little left online about Smartcheckr, BuzzFeed News obtained and confirmed a document, first reported by the Times, in which the company claimed it could provide voter ad microtargeting and “extreme opposition research” to Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist who was running on an extremist platform to fill the Wisconsin congressional seat of the departing speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.A Smartcheckr contractor, Douglass Mackey, pitched the services to Nehlen. Mackey later became known for running the racist and highly influential Trump-boosting Twitter account Ricky Vaughn. Described by HuffPost as “Trump’s most influential white nationalist troll,” Mackey built a following of tens of thousands of users with a mix of far-right propaganda, racist tropes, and anti-Semitic cartoons. MIT’s Media Lab ranked Vaughn, who used multiple accounts to dodge several bans, as one of the top 150 influencers of the 2016 presidential election — ahead of NBC News and the Drudge Report. …By summer 2018, Ton-That and Schwartz were working on Clearview AI and their image-scraping software had begun to take off. The company raised funding from billionaire venture capitalist and Facebook board member Peter Thiel and other investors, and Ton-That applied to XRC Labs, a New York–based startup accelerator focused on retail technology. …”

I’m sure that Hoan Ton-That who was deeply involved with Mike Cernovich, Pax Dickinson, Chuck Johnson, Peter Thiel and Richard Schwartz had no idea who Ricky Vaughn was when he worked for Smartcheckr. It was just a total coincidence that he was working there in 2018.

I remember a few people who defended Paul Nehlen’s doxxing of Ricky Vaughn saying at the time that Smartcheckr was a data mining operation and that it was harvesting information about the Far Right for the GOP. No one knew the true scale of what Smartcheckr was up to though until this story came out. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and hundred of law enforcement agencies all now have access to the Smartcheckr/Clearview AI database which uses a facial recognition tool beyond anything developed by Big Tech or the government.

As with MILO and Steve Bannon, this is just the latest proof that there was a GOP effort to manipulate the White Nationalist vote for Trump in the 2016 election and that Ricky Vaughn’s anonymous account was the spearhead of that effort on Twitter. It also continued after Charlottesville and well into 2018 until the blow up with Paul Nehlen. Back then, the tentacles of influence stretched from Steve Bannon through MILO to the Alt-Right and through Roger Stone to Cernovich and Alex Pilosov to Weev and through Peter Thiel to various people and through Rudy Giuliani to Richard Schwartz to Hoan-Tot That and Ricky Vaughn.

Undoubtedly, the Trump campaign will try to come up with a similar influence operation for the 2020 election although that is going to be vastly complicated by the fact that Roger Stone is currently in jail, Bannon has been deplatformed, MILO’s career has been destroyed, Giuliani is embroiled in the Ukraine scandal and Ricky Vaughn has been doxed and wiped out. Trump also has to run on his record rather than the bullshit he sold us in the 2016 election and won’t get anywhere close to the support he got in our community last time around.

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