ClipDrop – an unexpected new OSINT tool?

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ClipDrop is a new (still in beta testing) mobile app that uses augmented reality (AR) to capture real life objects with your phone camera and effortlessly drops them onto your desktop.

I spent some time testing it and the first thing that came to mind was how it could be utilised for OSINT, visual photo ID of objects from photographs, background elements, faces and so on (more on why these things are important here).

Here’s a promo video demonstrating what the software is capable of:

The app is available for Android and iOS and comes with desktop clients for MacOS and Windows.

You can use this app as a standalone phone-only product for capturing digitized versions of real life objects, but the full power of ClipDrop is the ability to transfer your captures onto another device.

The requirement is that the phone and computer must both be on the same local network for the application to work. So if you are using a VPN, proxies or firewalls, you need to disable all those things, otherwise they will interfere with connectivity between the app and the desktop client.

Also there have been some reports of certain antivirus software blocking the desktop version on Windows (third party AV software, other than Windows Defender).

You can download the desktop client here.

Before you start snapping away, remember that this beta demo version is limited by the amount of clips you can take – the product costs $39.99 a year (looks like it’s “discounted” from $79.99, which could indicate its future price) to remove those limits and unlock all available features.

There is a monthly price option of $9.99, but it does not make sense to pay 3 times the yearly upfront cost, if you intend to use the service for a year.

The first impression was positive – the app identifies and isolates objects really well, even when it has to pick them out from a visually complex background (like a cluttered desk).

Generally ClipDrop has no problem with focus, but I noticed that sometimes it can be confused by shadows or objects with less distinct shapes.

You can drop your clipped objects directly onto the desktop, or you can save them within a private cloud storage gallery. The demo version offers a 30 day cloud storage option, after which time the files get deleted.

The desktop client can be used with various plugins (like Photoshop), allowing for instant and efficient editing, which can be handy for facial recognition.

ClipDrop is surprisingly good at capturing faces, both in real life and from computer screens.

Another useful feature is optical character recognition (OCR), which allows you to scan and capture a block of text literally from anywhere. The captured text also lands in the desktop client’s cloud storage, but not as an image, but actual plain text.

The OCR capability worked nearly flawlessly each time I tested it, even when the scanned text had a rugged background. One area where I noticed it struggling was scanning hyperlinks or non-standard fonts – that’s when you can see some characters missing.

But overall, it does a solid job on standard text:

Since this app is still a beta version, the expected kept happening – frequent crashes that occur when you navigate the camera interface or click too fast on various elements. While this is a regular thing with any beta testing, I found it surprising that the trial version expires pretty quickly and users are expected to pay the full price for a product that is not even ready yet.

To use the service you need to either create an account or sign in using another service like Facebook, Apple or Google. Any user, paid or not, will have a limit of up to 2 devices (1 mobile and 1 desktop) per account, which can be quite limiting.

Privacy

Privacy as well as confidentiality are a big concern here, as it is always the case with using third party services for OSINT, especially those where you upload investigative material to their servers.

This is something unavoidable if you want to use the ClipDrop service – but in fact you should always be mindful of what you upload, be it investigative material (photos) or some sensitive text information, like a contract or some personal documents you scanned with the app’s OCR.

The creators assure users that the clipped content uploaded by them is anonymous, that no material has any connection to the uploading user and that content will not be shared with third parties.

The company behind this application is called Init ML and it’s located in Montreuil, France, so within a GDPR regulated jurisdiction.

The address is 211 rue √Čtienne Marcel, 93100 Montreuil (here is the Google Maps link).

More details can be found in the Privacy Policy and also on the T&Cs page.

CONCLUSIONS: 

ClipDrop certainly has some potential for OSINT investigators, although open source intelligence collection is not the primary use case for this tool.

I am personally not a big fan of a yearly subscription to any service, so the cost might play a role here in deciding how badly you need a tool like ClipDrop.

However, the OCR capability remains free as of now and you can still upload scanned text to the desktop client’s free cloud storage.

It will definitely be worth it to monitor the development of this app and avail of a 3 day full version trial when the product is complete. No doubt it will have some uses for online investigations…

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