Face search engine PimEyes stops searches of children’s faces

In what may come as a surprise, subscription-based face search engine PimEyes seems to have realized that their service can be used for nefarious purposes.

PimEyes’ CEO Giorgi Gobronidze told the New York Times that it has taken technical measures to block such searches as part of a “no harm policy.”

PimEyes is a search service that uses facial recognition technology to find online photos of people. The company says it has a database of nearly three billion faces, and it enables about 118,000 searches per day.

We have previously reported about PimEyes being accused of “surveillance and stalking on a scale previously unimaginable” after privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch filed a complaint in 2022 with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), claiming that PimEyes facilitates stalking.

Facial recognition technology already represents an invasion of privacy. While the service says you can look for your own face, there is nothing to stop you from searching based on someone else’s photo.

The measures to limit searches for minors was a work in progress, but seems to have been accelerated due to an earlier article in the New York Times on AI-based threats to children.

Facial recognition has been a controversial topic right from the start. Because of the privacy implications, some tech giants have backed away from the technology, and halted their development. A major concern is that some organizations have built large databases just from harvesting pictures from social media. You might be amazed about what a simple reverse image search could bring up, let alone one backed by Arificial Intelligence (AI).

As with most tools, the user decides whether it’s used for good or bad reasons. Parents have used the search engine to find pictures of their children that they were unaware off, for example. But it’s clear that individuals with a twisted moral compass might use the service for undesirable purposes. For that reason PimEyes already banned over 200 accounts for inappropriate searches of children’s faces.

PimEyes will still allow searches of minors’ faces by human rights organizations that work on children’s rights issues. It also admitted having some accuracy issues with the AI that is used to determine whether the requested photo belongs to a minor, especially teenagers. Testing by the New York Times showed that the accuracy also depends on the angle the picture was taken from.

Meanwhile PimEyes, and other similar search engines, keep collecting photos of people’s faces without their awareness or consent and making them searchable. And since a PimEyes subscription allows you to follow links to any website on which a matching picture was found, anyone could  piece together all the information associated with these images, for example the text of a blog post, or a photo on a workplace website. Allowing a stalker to work out a person’s place of work, or indications of the area in which the person lives.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad PimEyes is taking these steps to protect our young ones—better late than never.

Opt out

PimEyes does allow people to opt out of their image appearing in results. To do so, go to the PimEyes website and fill in the Opt-Out Request Form. If not for yourself, do it for your children. Not only to keep the predators at bay, but also to protect them against identity theft.

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Privacy risks should never spread beyond a headline. Keep your online privacy yours by using Malwarebytes Privacy VPN.


Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.