The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

« Previous Post | Technology Home | Next Post »

TinEye enables users to track photos

February 5, 2010 | 11:53 am

A picture is worth a thousand ... websites? If the picture has been uploaded on to the website, it certainly can be.

TinEye allows users to upload an image and then it provides search results of all the other websites that contain that exact image (or altered versions if the image has been cropped, color adjusted, resized or heavily edited).

TinEye essentially creates a “fingerprint” for the picture and then compares it with over a billion other images in its index to attain matches. It's like a Google image search except you use pictures instead of text.

I tested TinEye for myself and uploaded a picture of George W. Bush trying to exit a news conference in Beijing a few years ago. TinEye stated that it searched nearly 1.3 billion images in 2.2 seconds, and gave me a listing of other websites that had published his image. TinEye returned 48 other exact or altered images and the websites they ran on. Bush

What makes searching interesting is that each website has a unique take on the photo the user decides to share. One website printed the words “Exit strategy ... ur doin it wrong” over his image, another says “I push, but nothing happen!” On clicking the respective websites, each presents a different context around the picture, painting an entirely different framework for the original image.

The number and type of websites that are returned after each upload varies on the image. A photo of Neil Armstrong standing on the moon resulted in 1,101 results back from TinEye.Neil on moon

Doing a TinEye search on Facebook pictures of my friends, however, returned few results.

A well-known picture of a supporter of Mir-Hossein Mousavi hiding behind a poster of the Iranian oppostion leader returned only three websites.Mousavi 

Rather than uploading pictures individually to the site, I also found that the TinEye browser plugin” was the most convenient way to do a search for images. The plug-in allows users to simply right-click on images from Firefox or Internet Explorer and select “Search Image on TinEye” to get a instant history of the images.

What’s the point of tracking an image, you may ask?

Aside from enabling users to track where an image comes from, it allows them to possibly find higher- resolution versions of the image, locate other websites that may have published an image that users created (or that users are in) and track different versions of the image to see how they are used.

-- Zohreen Adamjee

Upper photo: President George W. Bush finds a conference room door locked. Credit: Associated Press

Center photo: Neil Armstrong on the moon. Credit: NASA

Lower photo: A supporter of Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Credit: Associated Press