Detecting fake Google+ profiles with image search

September 11th, 2011

Many Google+ users have been reporting frequent notices about new followers that they don’t know and appear to be attractive young women. The suspicious followers have minimal profiles and no posts. These are obviously false accounts being created for some yet unknown purpose, but how can one prove it?

I just got a notice, for example, that Janet Smith of Philadelphia is following me. Now Janet Smith is a common name and Philadelphia is a big place — there are probably hundreds of people who live in the Philadelphia area with that name. The 990 other people she’s following seem like a pretty random bunch, though I do know many and have more than a few in my own circles. Most seem to have a fair number of followers.

So there is not much to go on other than her profile image. This is a great use for Google’s new image search. I dragged the picture into the image search query field and Google identified its best guess for the image as Indian actress Koyel Mullick. Sure enough, if you search for images with her name, the precise Janet Smith image is result number 15.

Of course, there are still some subtle issues. This is just one kind of false profile — one created for one identity but using an image from a different one. It’s common on most social media systems, including G+, for some people to use a picture of someone or something other than themselves. But it’s obvious to a human viewer that using a picture of a rabbit, Marilyn Monroe or the mighty Thor on your profile is not meant to deceive. It will be challenging to automate the process of discriminating the intent to deceive from modesty, homage or an ironic gesture.