Imagine for a moment that you are looking at a photograph on the Internet. This can be a photo from a social network or a photo from online dating. Or maybe a photo from a news story? Looking at this, something doesn’t quite fit and you suspect. How to check if the image is real?
Many online scammers and identity thieves steal photos of people and impersonate them. So the pretty blonde you admire on Tinder might actually be a big fat Russian guy from St. Petersburg hoping to get your bank account details. Security is worth it these days, and there are several online services to help you with that.
Google isn’t the only major search engine offering reverse image searches. Bing and Yandex offer this too. But obviously the first stop for everyone is big G.
Let’s say you’ve been browsing Tinder and stumbled upon this rather slick gentleman.
He claims his name is Luigi and he is an Italian billionaire entrepreneur. But wait, isn’t he familiar? Didn’t you see him once in a movie? Or is he a local pizza peddler?
Then you have two options: paste the direct URL of the photo if it’s online. Or, if it’s on your computer or mobile device, you can upload it directly to Google.
I clicked Download Image, went to the photo in Windows Explorer and it started downloading.
Google immediately identified “Luigi, the Italian billionaire entrepreneur” as some kind of con man named “Hugh Jackman” who is a kind of “actor.” Phew, escape! We all know what these types of actors are.
TinEye is another reverse image search engine that has a good reputation for doing its job. For a fee, they also scan the images you give them and send you email notifications if those images suddenly appear on the Internet somewhere else.
One big difference from TinEye, however, is that they are not very good at understanding people’s faces, even if those people rank high in Google search results like actor Hugh. Instead, TinEye focuses more on more general imagery like artwork, proprietary imagery like photography and design, and the like. If you are an artist looking to protect your work from online plagiarism, this might be your best bet.
Let’s say someone offered me this “unique just painted” painting for sale, but I have a latent suspicion that it was not just painted and may have existed for a while.
How well does TinEye handle this? Let’s find out.
TinEye immediately returns over 13,000 results defining it as “American Gothic”. A quick search on the Internet reveals that it is a work by Grant Wood and hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago. So another closed call was averted.
Reverse image searches are not perfect. There are so many variables that can change an image, such as changing hair color, adding or removing glasses or facial hair, changing the tone of an image quality, and so on. There are photos of me online, but a reverse search didn’t find many of them.
Police, lawyers and private investigators will benefit from improved reverse image search tools. But for the ordinary Joe Public, we have to be content with what we have, but that is something that will only get better over time.