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PimEyes facial recognition website 'could be used by stalkers'

BBC Technology 11 Jun 2020 02:30
By Jane Wakefield Technology reporter
Screen grab of PimEyes websiteImage copyright PimEyes

A free facial recognition tool that allows people to find pictures of themselves or others from around the internet has drawn criticism from privacy campaigners.

PimEyes describes itself as a privacy tool to help prevent misuse of images.

But Big Brother Watch said it could "enable state surveillance, commercial monitoring and even stalking on a scale previously unimaginable".

It comes as Amazon decides to pause its use of facial recognition for a year.

Polish website PimEyes was set up in 2017 as a hobby project, and commercialised last year. It currently has 6,000 users signed up.

Attention was drawn to it following an article published on Medium.

The website allows people to upload any picture for free and it will then find matching images from around the web, drawing on publicly accessible sites such as Tumblr, news outlets and blogs.

In response, PimEyes said: "Our privacy policy prevents people from using our tool for this case. Every tool could be used in the wrong way."

"If you found faces which were posted only on Facebook that means that someone else has posted it somewhere else. We crawl only websites that agree in their rules for crawling," it said in an email.

All three social networks have asked it to stop doing so.

It told the BBC that the premise of the website was to help individuals "fight for their own online privacy", including finding fake profiles, leaked images and unauthorised photo usage.

But it has removed a reference on its website about searching the dark web for the police.

Amazon ban

Several studies question how accurate the technology is, suggesting that it performs particularly poorly when identifying black people.

In Amazon's case, police use of its Rekognition software has been paused for a year to allow the US government to decide how it wants the technology to be used in future.

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