PimEyes sees use by Australian police, enacts ban on searches for children
The controversial Tbilisi-based facial recognition website PimEyes, which lets users upload photos of anonymous people and scrapes the Internet for matches, is causing new concerns in Australia, where police have tested the biometric tool, according to a report in the Guardian.
A freedom of information request by the news organization shows that Australian federal police (AFP) devices logged hundreds of network connections to PimEyes between January and August 2023, ten of which were identified as being for operational purposes.
Speaking in the Senate, senator Davod Shoebridge called PimEyes “a particularly dangerous facial recognition tool” that has been “repeatedly criticized for enabling unlawful surveillance and stalking.” Shoebridge referenced past instances of the AFP using face scraping platforms (specifically Clearview AI) without conducting proper privacy assessments. “This keeps happening with the AFP,” said Shoebridge, “whether it’s Clearview, PimEyes or FaceCheck.”
On its website, PimEyes says its reverse image search displays “not only similar photos to the one you have uploaded to the search bar but also pictures in which you appear on a different background, with other people, or even with a different haircut.” Officially, the site is intended to be used to search for one’s own face. But there are no safeguards to enforce the rule. An article on NPR says it has found pickup on TikTok, where users have employed it to identify strangers. It has also proved useful for stalkers, and has been called out for having images of children in its database of close to three billion faces.
Ban on searching minors only partially effective
In response to concerns about kids, PimEyes has banned searches of minors, according to a piece in the New York Times written by Kashmir Hill, author of the book Your Face Belongs to Us. The CEO of PimEyes, Giorgi Gobronidze, says the ban is intended to reduce harm on the site, which is subscription-based but offers a basic version that is free for public use. However, when the Times tested the blocking system using images of the Olsen twins as kids, it found it to be ineffective in blocking facial images that were not taken in profile. And Gobronidze himself admits the tool has accuracy issues in identifying teenagers.
Unsurprisingly, the emerging ubiquity of facial recognition is getting pushback from activists and lawmakers. The Eu is considering a ban on the tech in public spaces. Ella Jakubowska, who runs the Reclaim Your Face campaign, told NPR, “We reject the idea that, as human beings, we should be treated as walking barcodes so that governments can keep tabs on us.”