Monday, July 15, 2024

Concerns about children’s privacy have led PimEyes, the public face search engine, to prohibit searches of minors. Giorgi Gobronidze, the CEO of PimEyes based in Tbilisi, Georgia, stated that they have implemented technical measures to block such searches as part of their “no harm policy.”

PimEyes is a subscription-based service that utilizes facial recognition technology to locate online photos of individuals. According to Mr. Gobronidze, the service has a database of nearly three billion faces and facilitates approximately 118,000 searches per day. While the service is primarily marketed as a means for people to search for their own face and find any unknown photos on the internet, there are no safeguards in place to ensure that users are only searching for themselves.

Some parents have used PimEyes to discover photos of their children on the internet that they were unaware of. Unfortunately, the service could also be misused by individuals with malicious intent. Mr. Gobronidze mentioned that they had previously banned over 200 accounts for inappropriate searches involving children’s faces.

“Images of children might be used by individuals with distorted morals and values, such as pedophiles and child predators,” warned Mr. Gobronidze. However, PimEyes will continue to permit searches of minors’ faces by human rights organizations focused on children’s rights issues.

Blocking searches of children’s faces has been part of PimEyes’ plan since its acquisition in 2021, but the protection measures were fully implemented only recently after The New York Times published an article on A.I.-based threats to children.

However, the blocking system is not foolproof. PimEyes is relying on age detection A.I. to identify photos of minors. According to Mr. Gobronidze, it is effective for children under 14 but has some accuracy issues with teenagers.

Additionally, the system may fail to identify children if they are not photographed from certain angles. To test the blocking system, The Times uploaded a photo of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen from their child star days to PimEyes. The search was blocked for the twin facing the camera but went through for the other twin photographed in profile. It returned numerous other childhood photos of the twin with links to their online sources.

Mr. Gobronidze mentioned that PimEyes is still refining its detection system.

Another public face search engine, FaceCheck.Id, does not appear to have any technical restrictions on searches of children’s faces. The site did not provide a comment when contacted.

Daniel Solove, a privacy law professor at George Washington University, highlighted that internet face search engines pose more extensive issues than just searching for children. These services are collecting people’s faces without their awareness or consent, making them searchable, and constituting a “massive privacy violation on a mammoth scale,” according to Mr. Solove.

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