Pimloc CEO on meeting the highest privacy denominator and adding biometrics features
Multiple factors will increase demand for AI and software that can both obscure biometrics and personal information in video surveillance as well as use biometrics to find those to be investigated in the first place, Simon Randall, CEO of surveillance anonymization specialist Pimloc, explains to Biometric Update.
London-based Pimloc develops ‘AI vision’ services to anonymize live or pre-recorded surveillance camera footage.
“In the old world, the video would go onto tape and two guys in the corner office would only have access to it and then it would get wiped every week. So actually, the security was quite good – it wasn’t easy to get at it,” says Randall.
“The challenge now is that the video goes into the cloud, and it comes back into a VMS [video management system] and sits in the system and it’s quite a lot easier to share.”
Pimloc’s product, Secure Redact, works in two ways: for anonymizing clips of surveillance retrieved from a system for a specific request, or to preserve the privacy of live surveillance feeds.
The former approach sees an organization’s compliance team find the required section of video then use Secure Redact. It appraises the footage to find all personal information and creates a panel of the faces found. The users then select which faces to blur and which not, to then export the anonymized clip.
Randall says that incidents caught on CCTV can result in multiple different requests meaning a great deal of work for a firm. While footage requested by law enforcement does not have to be redacted, anyone can ask for footage of themselves from anyone’s surveillance cameras in public places via subject access request. This would have to anonymize every other person captured.
Live video of public places wanted for monitoring or analytics, rather than capturing specific incidents, is anonymized at source by Secure Redact before being broadcast or shared.
The rush to comply
There are areas where GDPR is not totally clear on what must be anonymized, for example live surveillance of a train station platform. If that footage is then shared, it would have to be anonymized. Entities are generally reaching for an ever-higher bar in their own standards, often beyond local data protection regulation, says Randall.
“What seems to be driving a lot of that behavior is just general appreciation now that people are getting a lot more mistrustful of these systems and they’re a bit more worried about citizen pushback and reputational damage by doing something that seems to be not right.”
Pimloc’s customers which operate in jurisdictions covered by GDPR are applying those standards to their operations elsewhere. Randall sees demand as being driven by two factors: “the general opinions and attitudes of people and the other is the legalities around it.”
Randall believes that developments worldwide in privacy and data protection may ultimately mean a more homogenous approach.
“A lot of people polarize privacy and security – you can’t do both. And actually you need to do both. You have a responsibility to keep everyone safe and run an efficient business and protect privacy.”
Biometrics on the side
Secure Redact does not include any biometrics. No facial recognition, no gait recognition. Its software can recognize license plates, computer screens, tattoos, as well as what is a human and blur them all, but it cannot scan video to find a particular face. Nor can it export video with its selections marked up, only redacted video.
Customers are asking for it.
Another Pimloc product, Pholio, can conduct search discovery. Not yet for sale, Pholio could be added on top of Secure Redact or as a separate tool for “responsible analytics” such as anonymized crowd analysis. The search and analytics functions are being developed not for security use cases, but with the intention they will work with it.
$7.5M seed round investment
The firm recently raised $7.5 million in seed round investment led by Zetta Venture Partners with existing investor Amadeus Capital Partners participating again, joined by Speedinvest.
“Our big business challenge is to raise awareness of our products,” says Randall. The firm aims to use the investment to hire marketing and sales people for Europe, then push into West Coast U.S., then head back to the East Coast.
Significant investment in the technical team based in London is planned and an “exciting patent” is on the way. The firm is also pushing to keep improving accuracy with noisy, blurry and diverse footage.
Relationships with UK universities plus London’s AI and tech ethics sectors mean the firm has no plans to relocate elsewhere.
Autonomous vehicles, automating law enforcement
An autonomous car company has approached Pimloc as they believe they have to anonymize all the footage captured by all nine cameras on every vehicle undergoing testing in five countries.
“They have to store the video for audit so that when someone reviews the decision that the car made, they have to be able to review the video at the time,” says Randall. The firm wants to anonymize that before review by external parties.
This might not just be for the training period.
“They believe once they roll these [autonomous vehicles] out, they’re still going to have to keep a sample of the [video] data.” A potentially huge market. But possibly fractured. While the UK would probably have one set of rules for autonomous car surveillance footage, as might the EU, at present it is state by state in the U.S. Yet people are prone to driving across state lines.
“The view is that it would be impossible for a car to self-manage data laws state by state, they’ll just have to raise the bar for all of them to the highest denominator. We see that a lot with GDPR,” says Randall.
Law enforcement is another growth area, both because of the amount of video footage police forces are amassing and when they acquire other footage required for court cases where, depending on regulation, everyone but the persons of interest must be anonymized.
UK police have recently complained about the hours and days lost to pixelating faces in surveillance footage, reports The Telegraph.
Pimloc is developing an integration with leading video evidence management platforms used by lots of forces. It is already in trial with some forces.
“We are starting to engage directly with some of the forces in the UK and U.S.,” says Randall, of forces capturing huge amounts of video via body-worn cameras.
“We’ve got some law enforcement agencies testing it, and they’ve been doing some weird stuff. Like taking body-worn cameras and kicking them down the street – and [the software] works really well,” notes Randall, pointing out that body-cam footage can be easier to work with as the subjects are closer, their heads are bigger in the frame and fewer can fit in, plus there is generally less movement.
Ultimately, by developing a workflow system from storage, to search to anonymization and export, Pimloc is hoping to get the amount of time compliance personnel or police spend on video processing down to zero.