Monday, March 4

Face Search Engine PimEyes Blocks Searches of Children’s Faces

Concerns about children’s privacy have led PimEyes, the public face search engine, to ban searches of minors. The PimEyes chief executive, Giorgi Gobronidze, who is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, said that technical measures had been put in place to block such searches as part of a “no harm policy.”

PimEyes, a subscription-based service that uses facial recognition technology to find online photos of a person, has a database of nearly three billion faces and enables about 118,000 searches per day, according to Mr. Gobronidze. The service is advertised as a way for people to search for their own face to find any unknown photos on the internet, but there are no technical measures in place to ensure that users are searching only for themselves.

Parents have used PimEyes to find photos of their children on the internet that they had not known about. But the service could also be used nefariously by a stranger. It had previously banned more than 200 accounts for inappropriate searches of children’s faces, Mr. Gobronidze said.

“Images of children might be used by the individuals with twisted moral compass and values, such as pedophiles, child predators,” Mr. Gobronidze said. PimEyes will still allow searches of minors’ faces by human rights organizations that work on children’s rights issues, he added.

Mr. Gobronidze said that blocking searches of children’s faces had been on “the road map” since he acquired the site in 2021, but the protection was fully deployed only this month after the publication of a New York Times article on A.I.-based threats to children.

Still, the block isn’t airtight. PimEyes is using age detection A.I. to identify photos of minors. Mr. Gobronidze said that it worked well for children under the age of 14 but that it had “accuracy issues” with teenagers.

It also may be unable to identify children as such if they’re not photographed from a certain angle. To test the blocking system, The Times uploaded a photo of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen from their days as child stars to PimEyes. It blocked the search for the twin who was looking straight at the camera, but the search went through for the other, who is photographed in profile. The search turned up dozens of other photos of the twin as a child, with links to where they appeared online.

Mr. Gobronidze said PimEyes was still perfecting 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 respond to a request for comment.

Daniel Solove, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in privacy, said that there were larger problems with internet face search engines than searches of children. The services are creating mechanisms to “hoover up” people’s faces without their awareness or consent and making them searchable, Mr. Solove said, calling it a “massive privacy violation on a mammoth scale.”