- A startup that scraped billions of images from major web services — including Facebook, Google, and YouTube — created software that matches people with publicly available photos to identify them.
- The software can be loaded onto smartphones, and used to instantly identify unknown people.
- During an interview on “Hot Ones” from September 2019, actor-turned-investor Ashton Kutcher described having access to an app that sounds very similar — an app that potential investors in the startup were given access to, according to a report in the New York Times.
- “I have an app in my phone — in my pocket — right now. It’s a beta app. It’s a facial recognition app. I could hold it up to anybody’s face here and find exactly who you are, what internet accounts you’re on, what they look like,” Kutcher said during the interview. “That’s terrifying.”
- Kutcher’s investment firm, Sound Ventures, denied being an investor in the startup that created the software, Clearview AI. “Sound Ventures is not an investor in Clearview,” managing partner Effie Epstein said in an email to Business Insider.
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Ashton Kutcher is most well-known for his television career, on popular shows like “That ’70s Show” and, more recently, Netflix’s “The Ranch.”
But he’s also got a lucrative side-hustle as a venture capitalist, and that gig sometimes gives him access to tech that the rest of us haven’t seen just yet.
“I have an app in my phone — in my pocket — right now. It’s a beta app,” Kutcher said during a September 2019 “Hot Ones” interview. “It’s a facial recognition app. I could hold it up to anybody’s face here and find exactly who you are, what internet accounts you’re on, what they look like,” he said. “That’s terrifying.”
That nameless app sounds an awful lot like the software created by Clearview AI, a startup that created a controversial new application intended for use by law enforcement. And that startup provided access to its software to a variety of potential investors, according to a new report from the New York Times.
One such potential investor, billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, reportedly used the software to identify his daughter’s mysterious date at a high-end New York City restaurant. Another such investor described in the piece, David Scalzo, gave the app to his young daughters. “They like to use it on themselves and their friends to see who they look like in the world. It’s kind of fun for people,” he told the New York Times.
Kutcher’s investment firm, Sound Ventures, denies investing in Clearview AI.
“Sound Ventures is not an investor in Clearview,” managing partner Effie Epstein said in an email to Business Insider on Thursday morning. When asked if the app Kutcher spoke about in the interview was Clearview’s, Epstein didn’t respond.
Clearview AI is facing major pushback over its data-gathering tactics, which were earlier reported by The New York Times. It pulls images from the web and social media platforms, without permission, to create its own, searchable database.
Put simply: The photos that you uploaded to your Facebook profile could’ve been ripped from your page, saved, and added to this company’s photo database.
Photos of you, photos of friends and family — all of it — is scraped from publicly available social media platforms, among other places, and saved by Clearview AI. That searchable database is then sold to police departments and federal agencies, Clearview says, but new reports have shown that it’s also given to any other clients Clearview chooses. That includes billionaire investors, retail chains like Walmart and Macy’s, the NBA, and even some high schools.
Clearview didn’t respond to a request for comment.