We already knew Google's Image search feature was powerful (it can, for instance, find photographs based on a sketch). Turns out it's also a dab hand at identifying the pixelated pictures TV and newspapers often use.
Last night's Media Watch episode on the ABC highlighted how searching for a pixelated image using Google Images has a very high record of accuracy when it comes to identifying pixelated images where faces have been distorted. There are two contexts where these are mainly used in the media: when people are facing trial (since publishing an identifying picture might be deemed contempt of court) and when whistle-blowers or anonymous sources are going to be pictured on screen.
It's long been known that you can often identify a pixelated face on screen simply by squinting, but Google's Image search works with pictures where that method doesn't work. The problem suggests the whole pixelation methodology will need refining if it's going to be used in the future. Google itself doesn't seem to see an issue: asked about the problem by Media Watch, its "regurgitated PR guff" said "some searches are better articulated through an image, perhaps because you’re not sure what words to type in". Tough luck for the whistle-blowers then.
The lesson for readers? If you see a pixelated picture online, a simple drag-and-drop search might well show you the unedited version. The lesson for media? It's time to get over the obsession with having to show a picture on every single occasion, since there's now a real risk that either a whistle-blower's identity will be revealed or that the picture will be in contempt of court.
Pixelating protects identity? Think again [Media Watch]