戈布罗尼泽于2014年开始了自己的教授生涯，在格鲁吉亚的欧洲大学任教。2017年，他参加了一个交流项目，在波兰的一所大学讲课。当时，他的一个学生把他介绍给了两个“黑客”类型的人，即卢卡斯·科瓦尔奇克（Lucasz Kowalczyk）和丹尼斯·塔蒂纳（Denis Tatina），他们当时正在研究面部搜索引擎。
PimEyes, which costs $29.99 a month, has a superpower similar to that from the sci-fi world, which scans faces to find similar images on the Internet and provides links containing them. Each search takes only a few seconds. With the consent of more than a dozen journalists, the New York Times used PimEyes to scan their faces to test their abilities.
The matching speed is super fast and the accuracy is amazing.
PimEyes found pictures of almost everyone, some of which the journalists themselves had never seen before, even if they were wearing sunglasses or masks, or their faces were not aimed at the camera. PimEyes found a photo of a journalist dancing at an art museum event ten years ago and crying after being proposed. Although she didn't like the photo herself, the photographer privately decided to use it to advertise on Yelp.
At the Coachella Music Festival in 2011, a technology journalist found himself as a young man among a group of embarrassed fans. A foreign journalist appeared in countless wedding photos, and he obviously likes parties very much. One journalist's past life in a rock band has been unearthed, and another reporter's preference for summer camp holidays has also been exposed.
But unlike Clearview AI, a similar facial recognition tool that applies only to law enforcement, PimEyes does not include search results from social media sites. PimEyes sometimes displays unexpected pictures from news reports, wedding photography pages, comment sites, blogs or adult websites. The faces of more than a dozen journalists were accurately matched. For women, the wrong photos often come from adult websites, which is disturbing.
One technology executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he often uses PimEyes, mainly to identify people who harass him on Twitter and to confirm their real photos on their accounts. Another PimEyes user, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he used the tool to identify actresses from adult movies and search for sexy photos of their friends on Facebook.
PimEyes's new boss, Giorgi Gobronidze, a 34-year-old university professor, believes PimEyes can be a good tool to help people protect their online reputation. For example, journalists who don't like photographers using their photos can now ask them to delete their proposed photos from the Yelp page.
'users of PimEyes should only search for pictures of themselves or the faces of people who agree to be searched, 'Mr. Gobronizer said. But he said he only hoped that people would act "in an ethical way" and that there was nothing he could do about the technology infringing on people's ability to remain anonymous. PimEyes does not have any controls to prevent users from searching for other people's facial images and recommends that users pay high fees to prevent exposure of photos taken at night that may have a negative impact.
"No matter how you defend it, PimEyes is definitely deliberately designed tracking software," said Ella Jakubowska, a policy adviser for the privacy advocacy group European Digital Rights.
University professors take over disputed companies
Gobronize began his professorship in 2014, teaching at European universities in Georgia. In 2017, he participated in an exchange program and lectured at a university in Poland. At the time, one of his students introduced him to two "hacker" types, Lucas Kowalchik (Lucasz Kowalczyk) and Dennis Tatina (Denis Tatina), who were working on facial search engines.
Kovalchik and Tatina agreed to discuss their inventions in his academic research, which eventually became PimEyes, Gobbronize said. The two men explained how their search engines used neural network technology to map facial features to match faces of similar size, and the program could learn how to match better over time. "when I first heard about this technology, I felt like I was from the Stone Age, like I was reading science fiction," Gobronizer said. "
Gobronize kept in touch with the two founders and watched PimEyes begin to get more and more attention in the media. In 2020, PimEyes claimed to have changed its boss and moved its headquarters from Poland to the Seychelles. Sometime last year, Gobronize "heard" that PimEyes was for sale. So he quickly raised money and made an offer, but he would not say how much it cost in the end.
In December, Gobronize founded a company called EMEARobotics, acquired PimEyes and registered it in Dubai because of the low tax rate in the United Arab Emirates. Gobronize retained most of PimEyes's technical and support team and hired a consulting firm in Belize to handle consulting and regulatory issues. Now a businessman and owner of a controversial company, Gobronize wants to build a world where anyone can use facial recognition technology.
"it's essentially blackmail."
A few months ago, computer engineer Cher Scarlett (Cher Scarlett) first tried PimEyes, but what she found were memories she was trying to forget. In 2005, when 19-year-old Scarlett went bankrupt, she considered working for the government. She went to New York for an audition, but eventually gave up the idea.
PimEyes discovered Scarlett's experience and provided links to find explicit photos of her online. Scarlett is committed to labor rights and has become the subject of media coverage for a high-profile strike she led at Apple. "until then, I had no idea that these photos had been uploaded online," she said. "
Fearing that people would react negatively to the pictures, Scarlett immediately began to study how to delete them. When she clicks on one of the photos on PimEyes, a menu pops up with a link to the image, a link to the website where the picture is located, and an option to "remove from public results" on PimEyes.
But Scarlett soon discovered that only subscribers who pay $89.99 to $299.99 a month for a "protection plan" can enjoy the photo deletion service. "it was essentially racketeering," Scarlett said, but she eventually had to pay. Gobronize disagrees with the accusation. He argues that there is a free tool in the PimEyes index that removes results from websites that do not have significant advertising effects. He also provided a receipt showing that PimEyes had refunded $299.99 to Scarlett last month.
PimEyes has tens of thousands of subscribers, and visitors to the site are mostly from the United States and Europe, Mr. Gobronizer said. Most of its revenue comes from subscribers to its protection services. PimEyes also has a free "opt out" feature that allows people to delete their own data from the site, including search images of their faces. To quit, Scarlett provided photos of herself as a teenager and scanned her ID card. In early April, she confirmed that her opt-out request had been accepted.
"potential search results containing your face will be removed from our system," PimEyes wrote in an email. " But a month later, the New York Times, with Scarlett's permission, conducted a PimEyes search on her face and got more than 100 results, including the explicit ones.
Gobronize said it was a "regrettable result" and that opting out did not stop someone's face from continuing to be searched. Instead, it only blocks any facial photos that are "highly similar" when opting out from PimEyes search results, which means that if people want to stay away from PimEyes search, they need to opt out regularly and submit more photos of themselves.
'deleting explicit photos is particularly tricky, 'Mr. Gobronize said, comparing the trend of their spread online to the mythical Hydra. "if you cut off one head, there will be two other heads," he said. " Gobronize wants people to use PimEyes in an "ethical" way, which means asking people to search only their own faces rather than strangers' faces.
But PimEyes barely achieved its entire goal, except that searchers had to click on a box to claim that the uploaded facial photos belonged to them. Helen Nissenbaum, a professor of privacy at Cornell University, called the move "ridiculous" and was invalid unless the site had a government ID provided by the searcher, as Scarlett did when she opted out.
"if this works and we want to know where our own facial images are, we have to make sure that the companies that provide the service will be transparent and audited," Nisenbaum said. " However, it is clear that PimEyes will not conduct such an audit, but Mr Gobronizer said it was clearly not normal for the site to ban "illogical" searches, such as more than 1000 searches a day.
Gobronize relies on users to do the right thing and warns that anyone who searches other people's faces without permission violates European privacy laws. "this should be the responsibility of the user, and we are just a tool supplier," he said. "
Scarlett said she never thought she would talk publicly about what happened when she was 19, but after realizing that the photos had been uploaded online, she felt she had to do something. "these photos will be used against me," she said. I'm glad I was the one who found them in the first place, but for me, it's more about luck than the effectiveness of PimEyes's actions. "
Rules and exceptions
Although Gobronize said PimEyes can only be used to search users' own facial images, he is open to other uses, as long as they are "ethical." He said he approved the use of PimEyes by investigative journalists to help identify suspects in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The New York Times allows its reporters to use face recognition search engines to report, but there are internal rules for this practice. A spokesman for the newspaper said: "every request for reporting using facial recognition tools needs to be reviewed and approved in advance by the relevant responsible persons and senior members of our legal department to ensure that the use conforms to our standards and relevant laws."
A German data protection agency announced an investigation into PimEyes last year on the grounds that it may have violated European privacy laws, the General data Protection regulations, which include strict rules on the use of biometric data. The investigation is continuing. Mr. Gobronize said he had not received any news from German regulators, but was "eager to answer any questions they might ask."
Mr. Gobronize said he was not worried about the privacy regulator's investigation because PimEyes operates differently. He called PimEyes like a digital card catalog, which does not store photos or personal facial templates, but the URL of personal images associated with the facial features they contain. 'it 's all public, and PimEyes reminds users to search only their own facial photos,'he said. However, it remains to be seen whether this argument will convince regulators. (small)