With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn we are becoming exposed to more people than we would ever have. For some people having a huge number of friends or connections seems like a mark of achievement and mindlessly clicking “accept” friend requests is one of the obligatory tasks that they perform whenever there is a new notification. Some friend requests that you receive may come from a catfish. With a simple reverse image search you can find out where a profile picture has been used before on the internet and if yes for a different name or even names.
However, it is always beneficial to know more about the people who seek to become friends with you online. First of all, if your privacy settings are weak, strangers can see your details like your phone number or physical address. You are basically inviting total strangers to know where you live and how to contact you. This is bad for the obvious reasons unless you like surprise visits from strangers who might end up telling you when it’s “time to rub the lotion on its skin”. Attracting stalkers is also a proven method to overcome feelings of loneliness.
In some cases, there are somewhat valid reasons to allow fake profiles to become your connection. For example, there could be a recruiter behind the fake profile who uses it as a front to collect candidate profiles by pretending to be somebody who is in the same line of work thereby encouraging you to click ‘accept’. If you decide to accept the invitation you are gaining access and exposure to a wider field of people who work most likely a similar job or a similar industry.
In any case knowing more about a person is helpful and besides just googling the name you can also use the profile picture as a source of information.
So which steps are required to do a reverse image search?
- Save the profile picture or image on your computer. You can do this by either right-clicking on the image in the browser and select “Save image as” or taking a screenshot.
- Then go to Google and click on ‘Images’ in the top right corner.
- Here click on the camera icon.
- In the pop-up navigate to the tab ‘Upload an image’ and select ‘browse’. Select the image file that you have saved previously which will automatically upload and start a search.
- The search is usually done within less than a second and reveals all websites that contain this image and also presents visually similar images.
These results should give you a quick idea who that person is you are dealing with. But there is also another nice application for the reverse image search. For example, you could look for your own images that someone else might have used on other websites. As it seems Google’s image search tries to recognise what is in the picture rather that looking just for a file name. So even if someone takes any of your pictures and re-uploads them somewhere else under a different name Google should be able to find them.
What else ?
Here is another fun application for reverse image search. So I was trying out Microsoft’s new chat bot Murphy (meet him in Skype) whom you could only ask what-if questions and it would answer them by sending you very weird, obviously doctored images, as the answer. After a while, it became clear that it is likely that the bot makes these changes in real time, meaning while I am talking to it. So I came up with a rather bizarre question to proof this. I asked: “What if Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt?”. If I could get a response for such an outlandish question within seconds again then it is probably doing a search for an appropriate image and tweaking it in real time. This is not a standard question and any pool of possible answers written by humans would most likely not contain the answer.
The answer from Murphy was as freaky as my question:
Apparently Kennedy’s career would not have ended after his presidency and he would have become a very famous political leader in a middle eastern country. But where did Murphy get the image from? Here Google comes to help. I cannot use the whole image for obvious reasons to do the reverse search, so I just copy the left part and create a new image file.
And Google Image search has revealed how Murphy works. It looked for an image that has a very close match to the question asked and tweaked the photo accordingly. It seems that the chatbot understood the context quite well and to make sure Google only looks at the content of the image I gave the uploaded file a random name. Here is by the way the original unedited version. Found thanks to Google’s reverse image search.
It’s amazing how Murphy also detected the political context of both persons. However, this statement should be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample size.
Besides Google, there are other websites that are as powerful as Google and sometimes even slightly superior. If you want to dig deeper you can also try TinEye which offers even more options when it comes to image search.
Do to a reverse image search you can now just right-click in Google Chrome and select “Search Google for image” in the context menu that appears.