PimEyes facial recognition search engine
PimEyes is a tool that uses facial recognition technology to enable users to search for faces and identify people online. It was created in 2017 by Polish software developers Łukasz Kowalczyk and Denis Tatina, and purchased in 2021 by Georgian academic Giorgi Gobronidze.
PimEyes has been dogged by controversy since its launch about its impact on privacy and potential for surveillance, stalking, harassment, and extortion.
Data scraping, privacy
PimEyes scours news sites, review sites, blogs, wedding photography, and pornography sites for matches. The company says it does not include results from many social media sites. However, in March 2023, WIRED reported that software engineer and writer Cher Scarlett had been using stolen photos of dead people from Ancestry.com to train its algorithms.
PimEyes says it does not store photographs on its servers, but privacy campaigners are concerned the search tool allows anyone to identify and track anyone, including work colleagues, celebrities, politicians, and others. OneZero's Dave Gershgorn notes 'because anyone can search for anyone, services like PimEyes may generate more privacy issues than they solve.'
The power and accuracy of PimEyes also unnerves some commentators. The New York Times reports that it found years-old pictures even if the sample image featured people wearing sunglasses or face masks. And factors such as different facial hair, new hair styles, or the passage of time appeared to make little difference.
Others highlight the ease with which PimEyes can be used for various forms of illegal and unethical surveillance, harassment and abuse, including stalking, revenge porn, fraud, and trolling. In November 2022, UK pressure group Big Brother Watch lodged a legal complaint to the UK data and privacy watchdog claiming PimEyes facilitates 'surveillance and stalking on a scale previously unimaginable'.
PimEyes offers a number of subscription tiers for users to protect their identities and reputations. Digital rights organisations and others highlight the ineffectiveness of some of these services, and question PimEyes' purpose and sincerity. For example, German digital rights blog Netzpolitik labelled PimEyes little more than 'a payment model for mass searches'.
From the start, PimEyes has been reluctant to discuss its corporate and product governance, including its naming its directors and investors, how it obtains data, the types of organisations it works with, and what they do with the data it supplies. It also refuses to reveal how its algorithms work.
Country: UK; USA; Global
Purpose: Identify individuals
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Privacy; Surveillance; Safety; Dual/multi-use; Business model
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Privacy; Marketing
Published: November 2022
Last updated: March 2023