The Facial Recognition Search Engine Apocalypse Is Coming

Kashmir Hill, reporting for The New York Times:

For $29.99 a month, a website called PimEyes offers a potentially dangerous superpower from the world of science fiction: the ability to search for a face, finding obscure photos that would otherwise have been as safe as the proverbial needle in the vast digital haystack of the internet.

A search takes mere seconds. You upload a photo of a face, check a box agreeing to the terms of service and then get a grid of photos of faces deemed similar, with links to where they appear on the internet. The New York Times used PimEyes on the faces of a dozen Times journalists, with their consent, to test its powers.

PimEyes found photos of every person, some that the journalists had never seen before, even when they were wearing sunglasses or a mask, or their face was turned away from the camera, in the image used to conduct the search.

I’d never heard of PimEyes before, but suspect we’ll be hearing about it more going forward. I also suspect this is a losing game of whack-a-mole. Machine learning is clearly already good enough to do this with spooky accuracy, and it’s only going to get better. Should we try passing legislation to strictly regulate facial recognition search? Sure. But I suspect it’s futile, particularly given the global nature of the internet.

Friday, 27 May 2022