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Anyone can use this powerful facial-recognition tool — and that's a problem

May 4, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 24.8%. 3 min read.

You probably haven't seen PimEyes, a mysterious facial-recognition search engine, but it may have spotted you.

If you upload a picture of your face to PimEyes' website, it will immediately show you any pictures of yourself that the company has found around the internet.

This is all possible through PimEyes: Though the website instructs users to search for themselves, it doesn't stop them from uploading photos of anyone.

PimEyes lets users see a limited number of small, somewhat pixelated search results at no cost, or you can pay a monthly fee, which starts at $29. 99, for more extensive search results and features (such as to click through to see full-size images on the websites where PimEyes found them and to set up alerts for when PimEyes finds new pictures of faces online that its software believes matches an uploaded face).

The images come from a range of websites, including company, media and pornography sites — the last of which PimEyes told CNN Business that it includes so people can search online for any revenge porn in which they may unknowingly appear.

Several Twitter users claim to have used it in an effort to identify US Capitol rioters, for example — efforts that PimEyes told CNN Business it is aware of but that are unavoidable, despite being a violation of the site's terms and conditions, since PimEyes can't verify who is performing a search for a given face.

To get a sense for what PimEyes can do and how well it works, CNN Business paid for the $29. 99-per-month individual subscription, which gave me the ability to conduct 25 "premium" searches per day, see all the search results PimEyes dredged up from around the internet, and the ability to set up alerts for any new images that PimEyes comes across.

Sometimes, before PimEyes would conduct a search, a pop-up forced me to check two boxes saying I accepted the site's terms of service and that I agreed to use a photo of my face to conduct the search.

In one piece, PimEyes told the BBC that the website's aim was to help individuals "fight for their own online privacy," including finding fake profiles, leaked images, and unauthorized photo usage.

At the time, it also told the BBC that it worked with police forces via a software investigation tool called Paliscope (and an archived version of the PimEyes' website's "Frequently Asked Questions" indicated that PimEyes marketed to law enforcement as recently as that month; though that reference was gone a few days later, a company blog post suggests PimEye's technology can be used to "look for criminals or missing persons. ")

She thinks PimEyes more strongly resembles Russian facial-recognition software FindFace than Clearview; FindFace, which was available to consumers in Russia, gained prominence in 2016 for its ability to match up faces in user-submitted images to pictures on Russian social network Vkontakte.

To learn more about how the site works, CNN Business sent a note to a generic-sounding PimEyes email address, which was listed on an old version of the website's privacy policy.

They confirmed that the facial-recognition search engine works similarly to other such systems, by comparing measurements between different facial features in one image (the one you upload) to those in others (in this case, ones it has found online).

In order to match up the faces that users submit, PimEyes must scour the internet for images of people.

This kind of AI-driven image-matching is different from what happens when you upload a picture of yourself to a site such as Google Images and conduct a search: There, the results will include pictures of similar people (for me, that means lots of dark-haired women in glasses), but Google isn't using facial measurements in the hopes of finding you, specifically, in other pictures online.

But according to archived images of PimEyes. com, as of August 2018, PimEyes said it had analyzed "over 30 million websites", and in November 2019, the company claimed to have analyzed 900 million faces (Clearview AI, by comparison, claimed to have scraped over 3 billion photos from the internet as of February 2020).

When PimEyes' search engine finds a match between the photo a user uploads and one PimEyes has previously seen online, it can pair the measurements of the previously analyzed photo with the web address where that photo is located.

The person behind the PimEyes Team email claimed the company doesn't use photos that are uploaded by users to improve its software.

by summa-bot

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