Here’s Why You and Your Business Should Use Reverse Image Search

To use Google’s reverse image search, simply click on the camera icon in the Google Images search box

Credit: ZDNet screenshot

Reverse image search involves choosing an image and using a search engine to find the same image on other websites. It’s a feature I use almost every day, and I’m sure more people would if they knew what they were missing.

Reverse image search is both easy and free, thanks to services like TinEye – which pioneered the field – and Google Image Search. Both offer browser extensions, so all you have to do is right-click on any image online and choose reverse image search from the drop-down menu. There are several other services, including meta-services like Image Raider, which “search by image on Google, Bing, and Yandex” with up to 20 images at a time. However, Google and TinEye mostly cover most people’s needs.

So why would you use reverse image search? The reasons vary, but usually it’s either to authenticate an image, by finding its source, or to track its usage on the web.

Image Usage Tracking

If you have a website, publish brochures or press releases, or post copyrighted photographs online, you can assume that your images will be reused. Reverse Image Search tells you where and when. After that, you can decide whether re-use is legal and appropriate, and whether or not you should take action.

Searching for advertisements and advertising images will show you how popular your press release or blog post is, and you might just find coverage that text searches have missed – perhaps in foreign languages.

You may also find your images reused in contexts you don’t like, such as illustrating stories about a competitor’s product. If so, you can make sure they are properly captioned and credited. Remember, you can’t complain about images you don’t actually own.

You may find some websites using your bandwidth by linking to your website image rather than theirs. In this case, I’ve seen people replace the original photo with a less suitable one that has the same filename.

You may also find copyrighted photos that you have not given permission to reuse. If so, you can have them picked up or send them an invoice.

Either way, reverse image search brings up a lot of valuable information that you couldn’t find easily any other way.

Image Authentication

When you see an image in your email or on the web, you don’t really know how old it is or where it came from. Reverse Image Search helps you find out.

For example, suppose you plan to post a photo online or in print. Are you sure the supplier owns it? Is it genuine or has it been doctored? How old is he? How many times has it been used before? How much is it really worth?

There are many thousands of cases where a quick reverse image search has, or would have, avoided major errors. Sometimes an image is supposed to show a particular event, but it was actually taken earlier, at a different event. This often happens with tweeted images and sometimes even with news reports. It can be a simple error on the part of a photo agency or an attempt at deception.

Who’s in the picture ? In some cases, I’ve found, that’s not the person it’s supposed to show. Sometimes photo agencies get their captions wrong, and sometimes there are several different people with the same name. Checking the same image on multiple web pages usually solves both problems.

Has the image been doctored? Reverse image searches usually turn up many images that look the same, but upon closer inspection they are different. Sometimes a face may have been swapped, or something may have been removed or added to the image. Don’t think it doesn’t happen: entire sites are devoted to falsifying images, often for humorous or political reasons.

Sometimes images were flipped (flipped sideways): This is an option worth trying when reverse image searches don’t find the matching images you expected. In the pre-web era, I once got slammed for posting a reverse photo of a famous guitarist. Dozens of fans noticed what I hadn’t noticed: that he seemed to be playing his guitar the wrong way.

For these and similar reasons, reverse image search is now a core skill for mainstream publications, especially news outlets. And now you can do it in seconds, it also makes sense for less critical uses.

Person authentication

I also perform reverse image searches on profile pictures on social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. It is naïve to assume that everyone is who they say they are. What appears to be an attractive young woman who is befriending colleagues on LinkedIn could be a hacker looking for information.

Surprisingly often, I find that potential contacts have stolen their profile picture from another Facebook or PhotoBucket user, or I find that the same pictures are being used to advertise escort services. Scammers often use photos of long-forgotten movie actors and writers.

One day reverse image search could save you from being scammed or scammed.

If that’s not a good reason to use it, I don’t know what is.

Note: I’ll explain the pros and cons of using Google and TinEye in my next article, Reverse Image Search Made Easy…

Michael C. Garrison