PimEyes steals images of dead people to train facial recognition system

Occurred: March 2023

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Facial recognition search engine PimEyes used stolen images of dead people on Ancestry.com to train its algorithm.

Software engineer Cher Scarlett discovered images of her sister, her mother and great-great-great grandmother whilst looking for photographs of herself on PimEyes. Scarlett said the photos appeared to have been taken from images that she and her family had personally uploaded to Ancestry.com.

Ancestry.com's terms prohibit 'scraping data, including photos, from Ancestry's sites and services as well as reselling, reproducing, or publishing any content or information found on Ancestry.' 

PimEyes director Giorgi Gobronidze responded that the site's opt-out feature, which allows users to restrict specific images of themselves from being used, 'will not work with 100 percent efficiency always,' and that the site would stop drawing data from Ancestry.com.

The incident raised concerns about PimEyes' ethics, its use of personal biometric data without permission to train its facial recognition system, and the fact that it was abusing Ancestry.com's terms. 


Operator: Cher Scarlett
Developer: PimEyes
Country: USA
Sector: Technology
Purpose: Identify individuals
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Ethics/values; Governance; Privacy
Transparency: Governance