Scarlett, a former Apple engineer, was stunned when she saw sensitive photos from when she was 19 years old on a facial recognition tool.
When she was introduced to PimEyes, Cher Scarlett posted some pictures of her daughter and mother. PimEyes uses facial recognition technology to determine where someone’s pictures are appearing on the Internet, with the aim of preventing the risk of identity theft and the posting of sexually explicit images. Luckily, she didn’t see any photos online of her daughter, while her mother’s pictures were just people with the same face as her.
Scarlett went on to try again with her photo. The results stunned her. In addition to a few recent photos, the website also shows images of Scarlett’s dark days at the age of 19. Scarlett said it was from a trip to New York, when she was sexually raped in front of the camera.
“When I saw these pictures, at first I thought someone had edited my face and put it in porn,” Scarlett recalls.
Then she wondered why she looked so young. Then she recognized the shirt she was wearing and also her hair. Scarlett saves that image and uses it to do her next search. As a result, dozens of her sensitive photos appeared on different websites.
What happened in New York in 2005 left her so traumatized that she once contemplated suicide. Scarlett has worked hard to overcome psychological trauma, successfully rehabilitated and is raising her daughter. She is currently a senior software engineer at the game company ControlZee after leaving Apple at the end of 2021.
However, with just a few mouse clicks, PimEyes reminds her of her terrifying past. Despite her best efforts, Scarlett was unable to remove all pornographic images from PimEyes’ search results.
Giorgi Gobronidze, owner of PimEyes, admits what Scarlett went through was “incredibly painful” and hopes no one will experience it again. “The problem is not that search engines can find these photos, but that someone posted and did it on purpose,” he said.
Scarlett’s story shows how facial recognition can lead to irreversible consequences. This technology has grown in popularity in recent years and is not restricted in use. It’s been criticized for privacy issues and other potential dangers.
Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, says there are many people who have experienced similar pain as Scarlett. “Most are women, people of color and minorities,” he said.
Processing search results
Scarlett took a long time to delete what she saw in the search results.
“It was like…”, she became shaky as she described how she felt looking at the image. “It’s like a part of my brain is trying to hide it, but another part knows this has happened and I’m trying to forget about it.”
Not only is Scarlett digging into her past, but she’s concerned that anyone using the PimEyes tool could see the image. She upgraded her account to an $80/month plan that included a feature that allowed her to remove photos from PimEyes’ public results. She also sent a request to remove the photo to the hosting site, but it was not accepted because she is not the owner of the image copyright.
Users can opt out of appearing in the free PimEyes search results, but Scarlett’s story doesn’t go so easily. She asked PimEyes to delete the photos in March, but received no response for more than a month. It was not until she shared the experience on social media that PimEyes approved the request.
“Results related to your face will be removed from our system,” reads the email to Scarlett.
Pictures show back
On May 19, many pictures of Scarlett, including pornographic ones, showed up again through a search on PimEyes. Below the results, the page encourages users to pay more. “If you want to see the results that can be found using the ‘In-depth Search’ tool, purchase the Premium plan,” the announcement reads.
Gobronidze admits PimEyes’ process isn’t working as expected.
Scarlett still has questions as to how PimEyes will make sure what she’s going through doesn’t happen to anyone else. One of the workarounds, says Gobronidze, is for users to better understand how to use PimEyes, and through an upgrade in facial recognition software, to more effectively remove images they don’t want to show up in the results. search results.
“We want to make sure these results go away forever,” he said.
Even so, Scarlett is still concerned about the effectiveness of facial recognition technology in the future.
Phung Ly – Yen Hong (follow CNN)
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