A Face Search Engine Anyone Can Use Is Alarmingly Accurate

He kept in touch with the founders, he said, and watched as PimEyes began getting more and more attention in the media, mostly of the scathing variety. In 2020, PimEyes claimed to have a new owner, who wished to stay anonymous, and the corporate headquarters were moved from Poland to Seychelles, a popular African offshore tax haven.

Mr. Gobronidze said he “heard” sometime last year that this new owner of the site wanted to sell it. So he quickly set about gathering funds to make an offer, selling a seaside villa he had inherited from his grandparents and borrowing a large sum from his younger brother, Shalva Gobronidze, a software engineer at a bank. The professor would not reveal how much he had paid.

“It wasn’t as big an amount as someone might expect,” Mr. Gobronidze said.

In December, Mr. Gobronidze created a corporation, EMEARobotics, to acquire PimEyes and registered it in Dubai because of the United Arab Emirates’ low tax rate. He said he had retained most of the site’s small tech and support team, and hired a consulting firm in Belize to handle inquiries and regulatory questions.

Mr. Gobronidze has rented office space for PimEyes in a tower in downtown Tbilisi. It is still being renovated, light fixtures hanging loose from the ceiling.

Tatia Dolidze, a colleague of Mr. Gobronidze’s at European University, described him as “curious” and “stubborn,” and said she had been surprised when he told her that he was buying a face search engine.

“It was difficult to imagine Giorgi as a businessman,” Ms. Dolidze said by email.

Now he is a businessman who owns a company steeped in controversy, primarily around whether we have any special right of control over images of us that we never expected to be found this way. Mr. Gobronidze said facial recognition technology would be used to control people if governments and big companies had the only access to it.

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