Pimeyes is technically different from Clearview because it does not store faces in a database, but instead searches the internet for faces when a user uploads a picture, according to privacy experts. The platform is also much more open; anyone can search the site for free, although to see the links where photos are found, they have to pay a monthly fee starting at $36.
The company’s CEO, a professor named Giorgi Gobronidze, also stresses that unlike Clearview, Pimeyes does not crawl social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or VKontakte (VK). “The fact that theoretically we can crawl social media does not mean that we should,” says Gobronidze, who bought the platform at the end of last year. Instead Gobronidze says Pimeyes makes the internet more transparent. “There are thousands of people who do not know their pictures are being used by different online sources,” he says. “And actually, 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 a certain picture be removed and blocked from further processing with 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 picture in the first place, says Marx. “This company would only be allowed to use your biometric data with explicit consent.”
Pimeyes has incurred controversy before. After a series of news articles criticized its privacy policies in 2020, its previous owners, entrepreneurs Łukasz Kowalczyk and Denis Tatina, decided to sell. But the two men did not disappear from the industry. Instead, according to company records in Poland, they resurfaced as owners of a new face search engine called Public Mirror that is targeted at the public relations industry. One thing Pimeyes and Public Mirror have in common is Marx’s face.
In March of this year, Marx found that Public Mirror had four images of his face in its files. Like other face search engines, it’s not only the pictures themselves that reveal information about Marx, but the online links that accompany them. Public Mirror’s links act like a directory to the media articles that have been written about Marx or the conferences where 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 pictures these companies have collected of him point to an industry that reveals vastly more information than any social media profile.
When Marx started pulling on this thread back in 2020, all he wanted was for one company to stop collecting pictures of his face. Now it’s bigger than that. Today, he’s calling for regulators to stop the industry from collecting pictures of Europeans altogether. For that to happen, regulators will have to make an example of Clearview. The question is, can they?