Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reverse Image Search

Google have recently launched a new set of reverse image search functionality for their image search service. For the uninitiated, “reverse” image search allows you to use an image as the jumping off point for your search, instead of boring textual keywords.

And why exactly would we want to do this? I can think of a few reasons:

In the simplest case this can be a more interesting, or intuitive way to image search.
Perhaps you find a 5 year old JPG in your home area and you just can’t remember where it came from. Maybe Google remembers?
You need to find a HD version of your desktop wallpaper for that shiny new monitor. No problem...
Maybe you’re a rights-holder trying to track your own images. You wouldn’t be the first.
Being scammed by online dater fakers? Reverse search that profile picture - oh yes, that *is* Pierce Brosnan.

Now this isn’t an entirely new idea, an early player in the game was TinEye. TinEye are still operating and hopefully they’ll stay around some more, giving us double the image searching fun.

Google’s new functionality comes in two pieces.
At the core is ‘Search by Image’ within Google Images. Using the search query box, you can now choose to search with an image of your choosing. This can be a link to an image available on the web, or you can upload one from your local machine. Browser permitting you can even drag and drop a file, which is cute.

As we can see the result set allows us to discover locations on the web where the desired image can be found. We can also specify a different size for the image and locate those too.
Google’s algorithm will make a best guess at the topic of your search and this “trail” can be followed in the normal way - using the suggestion as a search term.

Further down the page we find the second part of the functionality, ‘Visually similar images’. This is where it gets interesting. We can now search around other images found to be similar to our input image. Effectively we can “bootstrap” the image search process with an image of our choosing. This is a great way to find something very particular, or something hard to spell, or indeed... pornography.

Clearly this can be used to find content without stating your intention in the form of keywords. For Corporate or Education networks this might be an AUP circumvention risk. Hence, filters must move with the times. Here at Smoothwall we’ve added a new category for Reverse Image Search services, as it may not be appropriate for all users. We’ve also worked to ensure Force SafeSearch, Search term filtering and Deep URL Analysis are compatible with Google’s latest developments.
Screenshot 2 was generated behind Smoothwall Guardian, demonstrating those features. Just for fun, here’s a screenshot using A. N. Other web filter...

Note: Censored to be (semi) safe-for-work.

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