Social Media

Twitter Bans Russian Face Recognition App Used To Harass Porn Stars

FindFace's creators have admitted that their service could bring an end to public anonymity

Social Media
Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Dec 16, 2016 at 12:15 PM ET

A Russian face recognition app with the ability to identify strangers by uploading their photos has been banned from Twitter after accessing potentially millions of user profile pictures.

FindFace, created by a Moscow-based company called NTechLab, became infamous earlier this year after its powerful and controversial face recognition technology gained popularity on the Russian social network Vkontakte. The service’s face recognition algorithms allow users to upload photos of strangers and instantly find their social media profile, with its creators boasting 70 percent accuracy.

Until now, FindFace has been limited to Vkontakte, Russia’s number one Facebook-esque social media service, where it’s been extremely popular. But on Wednesday, NTechLab revealed that it had begun using the service to comb millions of accounts on Twitter, leading the social media company to promptly ban the app from accessing its service.

“Twitter does not have a partnership with Ntechlab. When their use of our data was reported to us, we determined that it was a violation of our rules and shut them off from accessing our public API,” a Twitter spokesperson wrote in a statement emailed to Vocativ. “We take these types of violations very seriously, and are continuing to investigate.”

The spokesperson did not elaborate when asked about how much photo and profile data NTech was able to scrape from the social network before it was banned, but emphasized that the company’s activities violated Twitter’s prohibition on accessing its service for surveillance purposes. NTechLab did not respond to a request for comment.

FindFace has already become infamous as a dangerous and unprecedented tool for stalkers and online harassers. In April, trolls on a Russian image board were found using the FindFace app to identify and harass female porn stars and sex workers. The site included an online guide on “how to bully a whore,” which instructs users to identify women on VKontakte using the FindFace app and then email their nude photos to their friends and families.

The app’s creators have acknowledged the app’s privacy-destroying capabilities, at times bragging that the technology could be used for stalking. “If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request,” FindFace’s co-founder, Alexander Kabakov, told the Guardian earlier this year. “You could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages.”

Twitter’s move to ban FindFace comes amidst increasing pressure for social media companies to prevent their massive stores of data from being used for surveillance. On Thursday, Dataminr, a company partially owned by Twitter, cut off the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from accessing its social media monitoring service.