PimEyes owner insists on ‘ethical use’ of facial recognition search site
Giorgi Gobronidze, the owner of PimEyes, a face search website that uses an artificial intelligence-based facial recognition system to find people’s images around the web, says users of the website should be more ethical in the way they search for photos.
According to Gobronidze, “ethical use” of the photo search site means users have to search only for their own faces or faces of those who have given their consent for such searches, reports The New York Times (subscription required).
PimEyes has become quite popular as a facial recognition search engine, which helps people find photos of themselves that have been published online, in just a matter of seconds. The site captures results from blogs, news articles, wedding photo galleries, review sites or pornographic sites, but not from social media websites.
PimEyes, which has changed management since its creation in 2017, is now steeped in controversy with regard to how photo searches are conducted on the site. This is because there are said to be no specific or strong control mechanisms put in place by the firm to regulate the photo search process.
The article cites the example of Cher Scarlett, a computer engineer who came face to face with a bitter experience a couple of months ago, after finding photos of herself being victimized, from an incident of sexual commercial exploitation involving Scarlett years ago.
A search on PimEyes brought up the photos, with Scarlett saying she did not have the slightest imagination that they could be anywhere on the internet.
She narrates that as part of efforts to find a way of getting those photos off the net, she had to subscribe to PimEyes ‘PROtect plans’ where users can get undesired photos taken down from external links thanks to assistance from PimEyes help desk. This did not solve her problem either as the photos continued to pop up in further searches. Further, it costs between US$90 and $300 a month, leading Scarlett to brand it “extortion.”
In response to this, Gobronidze however tells The Times the site is built with other tools which can enable users to prevent their photos from being displayed on the website’s photo search index. Here, he mentions a free tool which can be used to delete search results from the PimEyes index, as well as an ‘opt-out’ feature which enables data to be taken off the site, including search results for facial images they want pulled down.
Scarlett eventually used the ‘opt-out’ feature and received an email from PimEyes in April which read “Your potential results containing your face are removed from our system.”
Despite this, the Times reveals that it tried a search of Scarlett’s face weeks later and found about 100 search results with her photos including some from the porn audition scene.
Gobronidze, in reaction to this, sustains that the ‘opt-out’ option does not prevent one’s face from being searched, but rather blocks photos with high level of similarity from PimEyes’ search results index. For this reason, in a blog post on the opt-out feature, the company advises those using it to submit “multiple opt-out requests with different photos.”
The company says more protections are in development, but will take time.
In the midst of this, experts in biometrics say they believe PimEyes has to do more than it is doing at the moment to enforce the ethical use of the facial recognition website, probably by requiring searchers to identify themselves either with government-issued IDs or through biometrics.
In an emailed reply to Biometric Update on this topic, John Gunn, CEO of Token, a biometric identification technology provider, wrote: “It is utterly disingenuous for PimEyes to claim they are doing their best to limit searches to only the individual requesting the search. They could simply require users to submit their driver’s license, passport, or other photo ID, verify this with a digital identity assurance provider such as Mitek or Jumio, and then use their own technology to limit the search.”
Gunn, whose expertise also includes wearables innovation and experience in digital identity, fraud prevention, and identity and access management, adds: “If banks can lend thousands of dollars on just a photo ID, PimEyes can easily adopt this inexpensive technology too. Their current approach is begging for government intervention and regulation.”
PimEyes announced the start of an affiliate program this month with the aim of increasing awareness for its facial recognition service.
This post was updated at 9:25am Eastern on June 2, 2022 to emphasize that the pornographic images referred to were non-consensual exploitation.