No Privacy - Saw You Cheating on Image Search

What is the next big privacy issue? Image Search. But not the current image search, which actually searches through the file names and meta data, but actual, pattern matching image search.

The issue of pattern matching between images regardless of perspective and color has been an academic issue for a long time, and has found application in OCR systems, fingerprint identification and some high cost expert systems. For the enthusiasts, here is a good article on the math behind image search Bayesian geometric hashing and pose clustering .

While the technology has been in research for more then 20 years, the current trend is turning towards image and video search, not for academic reasons - but for profit. Paul Murphy did a critique on the current state of search and the golden opportunities .

Yes, matching an uploaded image to a database of images and videos and returning similar items is a very valuable and profitable technology - just imagine the amount of commercials that can be targeted in such a way!

So it is safe to say that with the current advances in processing power, storage and network bandwidth, image search will happen, quite fast. It will probably deliver a lot of benefits apart from profits for the search engines, like

  • Pattern matching for obscure symbols or painting styles across many publications and museums
  • Searching for your lost brother on the Internet by uploading his child image
  • Even in kidnapping cases, for searching across the vast data sets of video surveillance in hotels, train and bus stations, airports, etc..
But it will also enable a huge amount of privacy breaches and dangerous situations, like:
  • Jealous girlfriend/boyfriend may use the search to sift through MySpace and YouTube videos of parties looking for possible indiscretions of the partner
  • Sexual deviants may use the online video and image archives to search for their preferred type of targets
  • Criminals will be able to look for a multitude of photos and blueprints of a possible target (a local bank building) by having only several photos and a sketched schematic of the publicly accessible part of the building
  • Identity theft attackers to find actual persons the target is working with or being familiar with, to prepare a better attack
We are becoming a very networked world, with direct and online access to ever vaster set of information.
So just be prepared to tell the truth to your wife when you come home from work, because soon she'll be able to Google you at the local bar with friends instead of a late night at the office

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Talkback and comments are most welcome


S. A. Hart said...

Thanks for this post. As an artist I'm of two minds about images being used on the internet. However, your post raised some excellent issues with regard to the overall concepts involved. Interesting!

Bozidar Spirovski said...

Just keep in mind that the pattern matching of your paintings will probably discover all the fakes or partial plagiarisms of the same image. The other way around, it will enable fraudsters to easily identify where your original work has appeared, and surface a fake at a new market, where the original are not yet seen, so the details of your style are unknown

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