Face recognition is not only used by authorities: "Who is the woman in this private sex tape?"
Photo: Thomas Peter/ REUTERS
“Gentlemen, Anons, I have 40 FindClone searches left and they are about to expire.
It would be a pity.
So I'm offering you my search services.« Unknown people keep posting such or similar offers in the Russian online forum 2ch.hk, also known as Dvach.
The responses are typically "Who is this teenage girl?", "Who is the woman in this private sex tape?" or "Who is this woman who refused to give me a job?", along with one of each Photo.
FindClone is a Russian online service that, according to its developers, "finds copies of your photos that are used by Vkontakte to send advertisements and spam."
Vkontate is something like the Russian Facebook.
Disguised as digital self-defense
It's a scam also known from PimEyes, a facial recognition service originally developed in Poland.
Both pose as digital self-defense aids that supposedly give people the chance to expose their own photos being misused on the internet.
The basic idea: Users upload a photo and the services search the web for photos with the same face.
However, they do not prevent you from uploading photos of any other person.
In a report published on Wednesday, the civil rights organization AlgorithmWatch compiled the purposes for which FindClone and PimEyes are actually used in Russia: stalking, doxxing, harassment and unreliable, more or less journalistic research.
The examples show once again that facial recognition technology can pose a threat to the privacy of innocent citizens - especially if the providers can freely collect their comparison photos on the Internet, as the controversial and comparatively well-known company Clearview AI from the USA has been doing for years .
According to its own statements, however, it only makes its services available to authorities.
Face recognition is also a tool in journalism
FindClone compares the photos uploaded to the service primarily with those on VKontakte.
Czech Republic's Radio Liberty has attempted to identify a man wearing large headphones who was standing in the background on March 18 at celebrations marking the anniversary of Crimea's annexation.
"It turned out that it was not an audio engineer, but a member of the presidential regiment," says the broadcaster's report, one of Putin's bodyguards.
But the conclusion did not go unchallenged, a software expert from Bosch explained to AlgorithmWatch that the photo with the headphones is not suitable for face recognition as a starting point.
The unresolved question is now whether Radio Liberty misidentified the person and, in the worst case, put the person in danger,
Investigative journalists - also at SPIEGEL - use facial recognition software for their research.
However, responsible journalists never rely on a single source to determine the identity of a person portrayed.
The fact that Radio Liberty used Microsoft's facial recognition as a second source is of little help in this case, especially since the result is far from unambiguous.
According to AlgorithmWatch, attempts to identify sex workers using FindClone, which have been ongoing since 2019, are at least as dangerous for those affected.
In the Dvach forum, this goes hand in hand with tips on how to embarrass the women, for example by contacting the family.
You don't even need an account with the search service itself: FindClone customers, who pay the equivalent of about five dollars a month, enter inquiries from other curious people themselves.
The Russian authorities also use facial recognition, but are not dependent on commercial services.
Particularly explosive: As the manager of a women's shelter explains in an interview with AlgorithmWatch, the officials share their findings with husbands whose wives have fled to such a facility or from the country to the capital Moscow.
The men would only have to submit a missing persons report.