February 24, 2024 - 9:00am

As headlines continue to hype up the possibilities of artificial intelligence, companies are increasingly using this technology to supercharge our worst impulses. Oops Busted!!, a new facial recognition search service, claims to be able to locate a cheating partner who is using dating apps. Users, for a small fee, can upload an image of anyone they choose, giving the individual’s name, sex, age and location. Facial recognition technology will then be used to scan the most popular dating services to track them down. 

The company bills itself as “a team of technology enthusiasts and relationship experts […] dedicated to enhancing trust in relationships through advanced technological solutions”. Of course, the uses of this technology go beyond suspicious spouses. Oops Busted!! also advertises itself as an option for those wondering if “this new girl in the office” is “single and dating” or “reconnecting with lost contacts, loves, or friends”. As with many online facial recognition search engines, there is nothing to prevent users tracking anyone they please, locating them and uncovering deeply personal information in the process. 

Ironically, Oops Busted!! promises that the privacy and confidentiality of its users is paramount. The app makes no mention of those who are being unknowingly tracked by jealous partners, curious colleagues or even by strangers. The gross privacy violation for those on the sharp end of this novel surveillance technology goes unmentioned.

Oops Busted!! arrives in an already crowded market. Clearview AI made headlines for scraping the entire internet to create vast databases of billions of faces, selling access to police forces and intelligence agencies around the world. A slew of lawsuits, fines and demands to delete its data have followed, with limited success. 

Meanwhile, other platforms are springing up online, making powerful surveillance capabilities available to anyone with an internet connection. PimEyes, a facial recognition website, offers subscriptions which allow users to perform dozens of searches a day. If your face is anywhere on the internet, private companies will have indexed it and are making money off of it, while opening the door to stalking on a scale never before possible.

There is a growing unease over how easily our online identities can be tracked. It is not unusual to see parents hiding their children’s faces behind emojis on social media, or for protesters to blur the faces of those in crowds. In Europe the AI Act is on the verge of becoming law, and though far from perfect will grant EU citizens some protection from appearing in these private facial recognition databases. 

In the UK, meanwhile, the Home Office is taking the opposite approach, seeking to turn our passports and driving licence photos into massive biometric databases for police officers to search at will. Whatever the outcome of the next general election is, significant legislation is clearly needed to protect data, or predatory surveillance practices will continue to run on unchecked.


Madeleine Stone is Big Brother Watch’s Legal and Policy Officer