Site using facial recognition to match photos from Russian social media network sued

A new website enabling users to search the image database of Russian social media site VKontakte with facial biometrics has been discovered, and then threatened with legal action, prompting it to switch off some functions, TOL.org reports.

Meduza reported that searchface.ru allowed users to search for matches to an image they provide from VKontakte pages, including locked accounts. A Meduza reporter uploaded an image of himself with his face contorted, and the website promptly returned his own account, as well as fake accounts which used images of him, and images from a friend’s wedding posted to a locked account.

A programmer reportedly responsible for searchface.ru was contacted by journalists, and asked to remain anonymous. The researcher said the data set of half a million images was gathered from VKontakte prior to changes which allowed users to block public visibility of their profiles, and was created as a research tool to test facial recognition on a large database with low quality and occluded images. The site does not require registration or serve advertisements. Images uploaded by users are not saved, according to the anonymous programmer.

The programmer said the SearchFace neural network technology has been fully developed by a three-person team, and that the site is a demo version. In tests, it identified people with faces partially hidden behind posters or wearing bicycle helmets, and matched images of children to adults accurately. Meduza found images that would not work with Facebook’s facial recognition algorithms for tagging people in photographs produced matches on SearchFace.

VKontakte alleges the data used by SearchFace was collected without consent and in violation of its rules, and the site no longer provides links to the user profiles matches are drawn from.

Before it switched its focus to corporate clients and began providing technology to Moscow’s public surveillance system, N-Techlab’s FindFace provided a similar service.

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