PimEyes: face search engine or cyber espionage tool?

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PimEyes: face search engine or cyber espionage tool?

Austin Distel/Unsplash Big Brother is watching you…

These days, because of pseudonyms or reworked profile pictures, it's hard to s ensure the identity of users on social networks. To circumvent this problem, software like PimEyes makes image recognition technology available to search for information related to an image in a few seconds. A door open to… all the windows?

A frighteningly precise algorithm

PimEyes is a paid service that allows, for $29.99 per month, to find from a photo everything related to it. Result: a profile photo may reveal certain documents that the identified person does not wish to disclose.

The New York Times has tested this technology and states in an article that the accuracy is… amazing. The search engine finds photos that data subjects didn't even know existed, in online photo albums of weddings, parties, museum exhibits, concerts, and even in the blurry background photos taken by strangers. These photos can come from press articles, blogs, etc. On some of them, people appear with glasses and even masked, but they are still found by the algorithm.

A tool that aims to protect e-reputation

For Ella Jakubowska, policy adviser at European Digital Rights, a privacy group, this tool is nothing more or less than a technology for “stalking”, i.e. – say spy.

The owner of the software denies it. A 34-year-old Georgian called Giorgi Gobronidze, he assures us that this technology has nothing to do with espionage, on the contrary. According to him, PimEyes could be a tool “for the good”, which would help people keep an eye on their online reputation. In theory, PimEyes users are supposed to search only their own faces or the faces of people who have consented to be searched on the web. For the moment, nothing prevents a user from circumventing the platform's ethics regulations. PimEyes has no controls in place to prevent users from searching for the face of a person who has not consented to it.

PimEyes is under investigation for violations of rights and freedoms

Just as facial recognition company Clearview was condemned for using people's images without consent for the benefit of its algorithm, the German data protection agency for the Baden Württemberg region last year announced an investigation into PimEyes for possible violations of European privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which includes strict rules regarding the use of biometric data.

This survey continues. For its part, the company claims that it is not in the same situation as Clearview, because the company does not store individual facial photos or models, but rather URLs to individual images associated with the facial features they contain. . Gobronidze told CNN that PimEyes does not want to accumulate photos and personal data. “We don't want to become a monster storing a lot of photos of people.”, he confided. Beautiful promises?