PimEyes is an eerily accurate face search engine

A popular image search website can seriously erode your privacy in real life, according to a report from The New York Times.

Reporter Kashmir Hill tested PimEyes, a $30/month face search engine that turned out to be frighteningly complete and accurate. After sending photos of the faces of a dozen Times employees to the site and verify a terms of service agreement, the site returned a pretty scary result.

As Hill points out, “PimEyes found photos of all the people, some journalists had never seen before, including when they were wearing sunglasses or a mask, or had their faces turned away from the camera, in the image used to conduct the search. ”

The reporters’ photos included one of an art museum from a decade ago, a crowd taken at a music festival and even a stranger’s photo taken at a Greek airport in 2019 with the reporter in the background.

It gets worse: PimEyes wasn’t crawling social media sites to get these photos, but rather scraping news articles, wedding photography pages, review sites, blogs, and even porn pages, and the mistakes the search engine made. search generally came from misidentifying female journalists as possibly being people who appear on these adult sites. And while you’re only “supposed” to use PimEyes to search your own face or the faces of people who have consented to the search, there’s nothing stopping someone from bypassing this flimsy protection.

The site isn’t technically new, but it was bought last year by Giorgi Gobronidze, a 34-year-old academic from the country of Georgia, who believes something good can come of the site (like people monitoring your online reputation). ). Apparently, in strange news, the website didn’t seem to have a problem identifying people with darker skin tones, so… the terrifying technology behind PimEyes isn’t racist. Hurrah!

There are options to “exclude” photos from the results, but that requires a hefty payment as part of an additional “PROtect plan.” (PimEyes says they offer a free tool, but it’s apparently hard to find.) And a free “opt-out” service to remove images apparently didn’t work when the Times I tried it

While German authorities are currently investigating PimEyes, Gobronidze believes the site can still be used forever, noting that he approved investigative journalists using it to identify the people who stormed the US Capitol on the 6th. January 2021. He has also blocked people from Russia from using the site, but says he is willing to allow Ukrainian citizens or Red Cross staff to use it for free to identify missing people.

Facial search engines may have a purpose, but even talking about the idea in terms of law enforcement or investigative journalism brings up plenty of privacy issues. Furthermore, the idea that he would be forced to pay money to have the photos excluded from searches and it wouldn’t work is “essentially extortion,” as one PimEyes user put it.

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