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NYT: Billionaire with ties to St. Petersburg tested facial recognition app

John Catsimatidis, the billionaire who said St. Petersburg “needs a skyline,” tested Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition technology.
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire who said St. Petersburg “needs a skyline,” tested Clearview AI's controversial facial recognition technology both personally and at one of his New  York City grocery stores. Pictured is Catsimatidis at the headquarters of his company, Red Apple Group, in New York in 2017. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN   |   Times (2017)]
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire who said St. Petersburg “needs a skyline,” tested Clearview AI's controversial facial recognition technology both personally and at one of his New York City grocery stores. Pictured is Catsimatidis at the headquarters of his company, Red Apple Group, in New York in 2017. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times (2017)]
Published Mar. 6, 2020
Updated Mar. 6, 2020

A billionaire with ties to St. Petersburg is among a number of private businessmen who have tested a controversial facial recognition technology primarily used by law enforcement, a New York Times story said Friday.

John Catsimatidis, the New York billionaire and regular Sunshine City visitor who has said St. Petersburg “needs a skyline,” currently has a large mixed-use project planned for Central Avenue’s 400 block. According to an anecdote in the Times’ story, he used Clearview AI’s mobile app in October 2018 to identify a date with whom his daughter was having dinner.

“I wanted to make sure he wasn’t a charlatan,” Catsimatidis told the Times.

While Clearview’s technology is largely used by law enforcement, the Times’ story highlighted how a handful of wealthy individuals — some of them investors in the company — had access to it. Catsimatidis is described in the story as a friend of an investor.

Catsimatidis did not return two calls for comment and an email to his company Red Apple Group.

Clearview sells access to a facial recognition algorithm that purports to be able to accurately identify people by comparing photos or video of them them images harvested from the internet, including social media, that it maintains in a massive database. Privacy advocates said the product raises significant privacy and civil liberties concerns.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times found that about a dozen Florida law enforcement agencies have tried or purchased the company’s technology.

Related: Florida cops use this facial recognition tech that could be pulling your pics

Catsimatidis, the New York Times story said, also piloted the program at one of his grocery store locations in New York City that had problems with shoplifting.

“People were stealing our Häagen-Dazs," he told the New York Times. "It was a big problem.”

Red Apple Group is currently planning a recently approved 45-story condo building and a 20-story hotel project for the 2.27-acre parcel in downtown St. Petersburg.