Artificial Intelligence, Facial Recognition and Conspiracy Theories

PimEyes recently became target of misleading information campaign, goal of which is to cultivate unjustified fear and create a false impression about PimEyes, it services and activity. One of the most brilliant examples of the aforementioned was an article published by “The Intercept”, a media outlet which has selected the most sensitive topic, children, to construct a conspiracy theory and promote idea of banning technology, turning a blind eye to real problems.

Artificial Intelligence, Facial Recognition and Conspiracy Theories

Since 2017 PimEyes has established itself as one of the most reliable, accurate and efficient web site search engines that performs searches based on the photos submitted by users. Using the unique AI and top edge technologies PimEyes made possible for thousands of users to be informed about their online presence, protect themselves from various infringements of privacy that might occur in the cyber space. Since January 2022, PimEyes has already performed over 16 000 of takedowns of illegally published images due to request of our users.

Since the new management entered force PimEyes has made significant steps towards professionalization of its services. At this moment, risks of abusing our services are reduced to the possible minimum, what means that ordinary google search can be used to stalk someone with greater success than PimEyes.

PimEyes has ensured to make the most important of its services, the PROtect plan affordable to the most of its customers. The company has elaborated not only new security policy, but social responsibility policy as well in the frameworks of which services are provided almost for free to the organizations working on children’s and women’s right, humanitarian problems, looking for missing people, who work to eliminate children’s sexual abuse on the internet, or combat children and human trafficking. For hundreds of PimEyes’ customers, the job that the company does is lifesaving, as far as the PimEyes has been established and developed with strong believe in freedom of the internet and freedom of the information. As it is indicated in the manifesto of the company, technological innovations should not be in hands of narrow elites, but they should serve to the greater good and be accessible for everyone.

Since the technology is new, and controversial in some ways, it is natural that part of the society might have questions. PimEyes always tries to answer those questions, provide comprehensive information related to the scope of the company’s services and technological cycle, explain both sides of the technology and help community to understand how such systems, or engines might be used to protect people on the internet.

However, alongside the success, PimEyes became a target of information campaign that often is not only unjustified, but is totally inaccurate and mostly based on misinterpretations, personal perceptions, conspiracy theories and are not even close to real practice.

One of the most visible examples of the mentioned was accusation of PimEyes in extortionist policy. As if PimEyes forced users to keep subscription, to block, or hide search results related to their initial search material. The wave of accusations followed the story, published by Cher Scarlett, who described in her blog that she had to pay 300 USD per month to keep her search results blocked. The story was spread by various media outlets without checking, describing the company as an ethically bankrupt and extortionist, calling law enforces and regulators to take an action. However, the truth is that the company has never demanded from any user any type of payment, or even free registration to exercise their right to be forgotten. PimEyes has always had a free opt out form to totally erase the data potentially related to the user and a special form to remove certain image from the search results if the user didn’t want to block every search result. Requests are reviewed by the data security team and attended in less the 24 hours during the working days. As for the author of the story, she has been refunded the very same day as she made a payment. However, for some reasons neither author of the story, nor the media spreading the story and blowing whistles, bothered themselves to admit this. They simply ignored the fact, supported by the evidence and position of the company, that users pay for services, not for their rights.

Another concern, PimEyes had to answer, was related to possibility to abuse its services. Mostly, using PimEyes search for stalking. PimEyes acknowledges the risks, and alongside the terms of service, which forbids abusing our service, PimEyes has elaborated risk reduction policy, according to which accounts with suspicious activity are temporarily, or permanently suspended. Accordingly, we can say that PimEyes has terms of service, rules how to use its service and takes actions when violation of those rules are revealed.

PimEyes has elaborated self-restriction rules, to safeguard third parties from violation of their privacy rights, however criticists of the technology, who blindly believe that artificial intelligence itself and facial recognition is an evil, simply ignore those facts. Moreover, they do their best to provide concerned audience biased, one-sided and inaccurate material to prove their truth.

Looking at all those articles, one thing catches readers’ eyes. Almost every critical assumption starts with combination of the words “what if”, followed by theory, totally unjustified and contradicting to the existing facts.

One of the most brilliant examples of the aforementioned was an article published by “The Intercept”. “PimEyes makes sensitive images of children available to anyone with an internet connection”, claims the author in the very title of the article, simply ignoring the fact, that PimEyes makes available only the information which is published on public domains and literally everyone in the world has right to receive it.

Reading the article further makes clear that protection of children’s rights has never been a case for the author and for the media outlet. It was all about the facial recognition platform, however children, as one of the most sensitive topics and vulnerable could easily catch the attention of concerned audience, especially when author describes the situation with emotional markers, using the classic tactics of manipulation and deception. “Searches churn up a welter of images that feel plucked from the depths of the internet”, - says the author describing her experience of using PimEyes. However, she has somehow forgot to mention that PimEyes never performs crawling of the dark web. The fact the online search engine is capable to cover the wide scope of the internet space only shows how efficient the engine itself is. There are no special “depths” of the internet that have been somehow breached by the PimEyes. But that is not everything, as author claims some results come from “websites that parents created anonymously or semi-anonymously to feature photos of their children”, - another technological nonsense, anonymous websites, published on the open internet, intentionally made public. It is interesting, how many people in the world think that the best way to keep anonymity is to create public web site with your information and make it accessible for everyone with access to internet.

As we have already mentioned, PimEyes only crawls for those web sites, which are a) public, accessible for everyone, the information published by the web site is not restricted and literally everyone has right to receive it; and b) their robots.txt allows crawling. Just for the information, if someone wants to hide the information, they do not publish it on the open web. If someone has a secret and want a secret to remain a secret, they do not write about them on the open blogs. The public web sites are created for the intention to disseminate the information provided on the web sites and make it accessible to the wide range of audience, never asking a question about motivation of the people who receives the information.

By the way The Intercept contradicts own statement in the very same paragraph, claiming that one of the searches “turned up a photo of a 14-year-old British boy that had been featured in a video about the U.K. educational system. The commentator gave the boy’s first name and details about the school he attended.” Author never says that the video was restricted. Moreover, as it is clear from the text, the video was made public, describing different aspects of British education system. So, what is the logic of the author? If the user looks for information using google search and finds the web site, it is fine, but if another search engine finds the same web site, it is dangerous? For the author problem is not, what is found on the internet, but it is more problematic how it is found.

Speaking about PimEyes children policy, author has simply taken words of the company’s CEO out of context, cut them, and used to draw the desirable picture. Another demonstration of biased investigation and media manipulation. The journalist has been explained that PimEyes doesn’t want it’s AI to profile anyone’s face and personal information such as race, gender, ethnicity, age etc., as far as PimEyes is online search tool looking for websites publishing certain types of photos and PimEyes has never been designed to look for or identify and profile any individual. However, company’s CEO has admitted that children need more protection on the internet, and PimEyes also works on several options to enhance its safeguard tools. Furthermore, as “The Intercept” has been informed there are no “alert images”, or “guard images” of the children set by the users, as far as every guard and alert image, or the initial search material used by subscribers are precisely checked by the data security unit and the tech team. It will not surprise anyone, if we say that this part is also missing from the article. Instead, the author says: “In a wide-ranging video interview that stretched to nearly two hours, Gobronidze offered a vague and sometimes contradictory account of the site’s privacy protections.” The author further continues to create the icon of the enemy from the company, using the words of company CEO, cut out of context: “At the same time, he dismissed the argument that parents who post anonymous photos of their children have any expectation of privacy. “Parents should be more responsible,” he said. “I have never posted a photo of my child on social media or on a public website,” in truth, journalist has never spoken about anonymous photos, she has mentioned that parents often point addresses, and other information about their children on such websites. All, what PimEyes CEO mentioned was that in such fact the problem is not that search engine can find the website, but the problem is that such information is available and intentionally made public. It is often recommended by different human rights organizations specialized on children’s rights to hesitate publishing of certain types of photos of children on social media, not to say anything about the open web, therefore, parents should be more responsible as far as the information on the open web is accessible with, or without PimEyes. It is impossible not to agree that there is a big difference between what was said and what was written and what was asked.

Afterwards the Intercept starts to develop another conspiracy theory to discuss how PimEyes can be used by stalkers. And as already mentioned, article says no word about PimEyes security policy, neither it mentions the fact the company has already suspended multiple accounts due to suspicious activity. Author also somehow “forgot to mention” that as far as the billing information is assigned to the account, it gives PimEyes possibility to disclose the identity of the account user to the competent law enforcer institutions in case the account is used to commit action labeled as crime by the criminal code of the certain countries. Instead of the mentioned, author provides an insane theory, according to the which, all what stalker does, is to provide billing information to the company, which helps to search for publicly available information, pays hundreds of dollars for this and risks to be exposed.

To bring more drama on a stage, the intercept asks question: what about the children of political dissidents? “Governments targeting the sons and daughters of political dissidents”. It is hard to imagine that a person, with at least minimal competence in the field of facial recognition believes that authoritarian regimes, such a Russia, China, North Korea and Iran will need PimEyes to perform facial recognition and hunt down dissidents. By the way, journalist somehow “forgot” to mention that these countries are barred from access to PimEyes web site.

Same time, since PimEyes discloses only and only the information everyone is authorized to see, the risks that crime will be committed by using any of PimEyes service is almost equal to zero. You cannot judge people for surfing an open internet and using the search engine of their choice. Receiving unclassified, or unrestricted information is a fundamental right of every human, and freedom of internet is one of the basic parts of freedom of information. That is something that makes democratic world different from North Korea, China, Russia, or Iran. However, as we see some “concerned” activists are ready to advocate Bolshevik style censorship in the name of safety.

Alongside the biased approach, the article demonstrates ignorance about the technological cycle of PimEyes. As the author of this has been explained PimEyes doesn’t store photos used by the users for search. As it is indicated in the privacy policy of the company, such photos are stored up to 48 hours. This is the maximum amount of time (depends on search frequency) needed to remove the photo from the server. However, the author decided to envelope this statement as a lie, and accuse the company and CEO that the statement, that PimEyes doesn’t store the photos is false.

However, the author has never presented any proof that PimEyes violates its privacy policy, or the terms of service. However, The Intercept never cared about any proof, because entire article was written with the one goal, which is well expressed in the final sentence: “Services like this should be banned. That’s how you should regulate it.”

To provide the short summary, PimEyes had to face another information attack in the finest spirit of Bolshevik censorship, just being labeled as an enemy of the society and sentenced to be destroyed. Just like Bolsheviks did between 1924-1937. Same time, the author doesn’t speak about real problems, that modern community might face on the internet. Even in case of children, she simply believes that public web sites, allowing everyone to receive the information are “anonymous”. They see no problem in the fact that information about children, including their addresses are available on the open web, that parents sometimes do not acknowledge the risks related to open web, social media etc. For them lack of the media, or internet literacy is not a problem, same time technology and innovation is and with such Orwellian vision that “Ignorance is Strength” continues to fight the technological and commercial innovations.

The outlet sees a problem in a fact that search engine might find illegal content, but for some reasons they turn blind eye to the fact that there are people, who create illegal content and make them publicly available. For them problem is that someone may find out information about the crime, not the crime itself. They always turn blind to a fact that illegal, illicit content became publicly available and everyday hundreds of new web sites publishing such content are created, ruining people's lives. However, they believe that the only available service on the market offering people to find and takedown such content, is a true evil. With such attitudes they do not realize how easily they have become an advocate to a devil.