Pimeyes is technically different from Clearview because it doesn’t store faces in a database, but instead searches the internet for faces when a user uploads a photo, according to privacy experts. The platform is also much more open; anyone can search the site for free, although to see the links where the photos are, they have to pay a monthly fee starting at $36.
The company’s CEO, a professor named Giorgi Gobronidze, also points out that unlike Clearview, Pimeyes does not crawl social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or VKontakte (VK). “The fact that we can theoretically explore social media doesn’t mean we should,” says Gobronidze, who bought the platform late last year. Instead, Gobronidze says Pimeyes makes the internet more transparent. “There are thousands of people who don’t know their photos are being used by different sources online,” he says. “And in fact, they have a right to know.”
For people who don’t want to know, Gobronidze says it’s easy to remove their face from his site. “[People] can submit opt-out requests, or they can order that a certain image be removed and blocked from further processing with just one click, under each free search result. Even though Pimeyes is officially based outside the EU, in Belize, the company should never have used his photo in the first place, says Marx. “This company would only be allowed to use your biometrics with explicit consent.”
Pimeyes has already sparked controversy. After a series of press articles criticizing its privacy policies in 2020, its former owners, entrepreneurs Łukasz Kowalczyk and Denis Tatina, decided to sell. But the two men have not disappeared from the industry. Instead, according to company records in Poland, they resurfaced as owners a new face search engine called Public Mirror, aimed at the PR industry. One thing Pimeyes and Public Mirror have in common is the face of Marx.
In March this year, Marx discovered that Public Mirror had four images of his face on file. Like other face search engines, it is not just the images themselves that reveal information about Marx, but the online links that accompany them. The Public Mirror links act as a directory to press articles that have been written about Marx or conferences at which he has spoken.
Each of these platforms reveals deeply personal information. “You can tell where I study, which political party I like,” Marx says. Together, the photos these companies have collected of him point to an industry that reveals far more information than any social media profile.
When Marx started pulling this thread in 2020, all he wanted was for a company to stop collecting photos of his face. Now it’s bigger than that. Today he calls on regulators to stop the industry from collecting photos of Europeans. For that to happen, regulators will have to make an example of Clearview. The question is, can they?