PimEyes describes itself as a face search engine and reverse image search platform that allows an individual to search the internet to find any images that contain a given face.
“PimEyes uses face recognition search technologies to perform a reverse image search,” the company says. “Find a face and check where the image appears online. Our face finder helps you find a face and protect your privacy. Facial recognition online system allows you to search by image.”
It charges $20 to find websites where an individual’s photos have been found and even more for multiple searches and the option to exclude specific photos from future search results.
PimEyes says that it believes individuals have a right to find themselves on the internet for the purposes of their privacy and image, a rather ironic statement given the accusation that the company has been scraping Ancestry to fill its facial database without seeking consent.
According to a report on Wired, PimEyes is accused of scraping photos from Ancestry’s user-uploaded database to index facial features. While the goals of the facial recognition site are to protect privacy, to do so it appears to have violated the privacy of many others, resulting in significant data protection concerns.
After I reached out, it blocked Ancestry's domain from being crawled and removed related facial indexes. But the case has raised privacy, data protection and ethical questions
A spokesperson for Ancestry tells Wired that its terms and conditions prohibit data scraping and that its sites customers retain ownership of the data and images they upload to the platform.
For its part, PimEyes says its crawlers are only supposed to scrape websites they have been given explicit permission for, which somehow was bypassed in this case.
“PimEyes only crawls websites who officially allow us to do so. It was … very unpleasant news that our crawlers have somehow broken the rule,” Giorgi Gobronidze, PimEyes’ director, tells Wired.
This is not the first time that PimEyes has found itself in a negative light. The company has previously been criticized for collecting images of children that made it easier to stalk and abuse them.
The company says it has now blocked Ancestry’s domain and anything indexed from the data is being erased. Wired’s full report on the situation is certainly worth a read.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.