Two employees of controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI have been found to have ties to white nationalism, according to an exhaustive report by HuffPost published on Tuesday.
The report found that one investigator for the company belonged to a white nationalist group based in Washington, DC who continued to work for the company as recently as last month. Another employee had enthusiastically endorsed “Islamophobia, Eurocentrism and anti-Semitism” in online writings in 2015.
Reached by The Verge, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That said he was unaware of the online writings and that neither employee remains with the company.
“I learned about the world, its inhabitants and ideas online.”
“I am not a white supremacist or an anti-semite, nor am I sympathetic to any of those views,” Ton-That said in a statement. “They are abhorrent and I reject them wholly and without reservation.”
Clearview AI rose to prominence earlier this year, quietly offering facial recognition services to law enforcement and corporate clients that would identify a person from a photograph. Much of the company’s database was scraped from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks in apparent violation of the platforms’ privacy protections and terms of service. Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan is currently suing the company on those grounds, calling the service “unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy.”
At the same time, Clearview appears to have wide adoption within law enforcement. A client list obtained by BuzzFeed News lists more than 2,000 clients, including the FBI, Department of Justice, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Corporate clients include major brands like Best Buy and Macy’s.
The HuffPost report also details a web of more ambiguous connections between Ton-That and alt-right figures like Chuck Johnson, Pax Dickinson, and Richard Spencer. Ton-That was active on Johnson’s WeSearchr platform and appears to have socialized extensively with Johnson. (One photo, shared by Mike Cernovich, shows the pair giving the “okay” sign together at a restaurant.) Johnson also promoted Clearview extensively within his circle, even giving a private demo to a passenger on a plane. His broader involvement in the company is unclear, and Johnson has made various contradictory statements regarding it.
In his statement, Ton-That described those associations as the product of a life spent on the internet. “I learned about the world, its inhabitants and ideas online,” Ton-That said. “It had not always been a straight path, and it had not always served me well. 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.”