Using Google, Bing & TinEye photo search for safer networking on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is sometimes tightfisted about sharing information for people you are not connected to, especially if you’re using a free account. Are you trying to find out somebody’s last name, or their email, or their Twitter account? Or are you trying to figure out if that invitation you received is from a real person or one of LinkedIn’s many fake accounts? Does that photo of the airline manager in Dubai look suspiciously like a Hollywood actress or a Scandinavian model?
There are several ways to answer to all those questions. But one of the quickest is reverse image search. With the right browser plugin, it can literally be done with a click of a mouse.
What is a Reverse Image Search?
You are probably familiar with keyword photo search. You go to Google images or any other photo service online, enter a search term or two, click search, and your screen fills up with images.
A reverse image lookup starts with the image and you tell the search engine to look for duplicates or similar images. The results will normally include web addresses where you can find copies of the image. For photos of people, the search engine may find a name for that person and look for other accounts (Twitter, Google+ , Facebook, etc.) that also use the same photo.
If you use Chrome or Firefox as your browser, there are plugins which make it easier and quicker to do an image search. I’ve long used TinEye and Google Image Search in Chrome (and, previously, in Firefox). For this article, I also tested the newer Bing Image Search plugin for Chrome.
Each of these image search tools uses a different image database, built from scanning the web for many years.
How to Find Available Plugin Tools
Each browser has its own way of finding plugins, also called extensions. (By necessity, this article used the PC version of these browsers.)
Finding Chrome Image Search Tools
With the Chrome browser, click on the triple-line icon (a.k.a. the hamburger icon), select More tools to open a submenu, then select Extensions to see those extensions already installed. Scroll to the bottom of the list and click on Get more extensions to do a search. Type in either, “Google Image Search,” or “TinEye image search,” or “Bing image search.” Find the appropriate plugin (there may be more than one) and click on the + Add to Chrome button.
Finding Firefox Image Search Tools
In Firefox, click on the triple-line icon (a.k.a. the hamburger icon), click on the Add-ons button, to get to the Firefox Add-ons page. In the search box on the upper right corner of the page, enter “Google Image Search,” or “TinEye image search.” Make sure the Available Add-ons button is active. Specifically, I’ve used the “Google Image Search” tool with the Google logo (two extensions use the same name). There is only one TinEye Reverse Image Search, and I found no Bing image search in this database.
Finding Image Plugins for other Browsers
In Internet Explorer:
For TinEye, go to http://www.tineye.com/plugin and follow the instructions. I could find no plugins for Google or Bing image search for IE. (See What if I don’t have a plug-in below.)
Safari and Opera users can get TinEye from http://www.tineye.com/plugin . Try as I might, my dear Safari users, I could not find any other plugins, but then I don’t have Safari on a Mac.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has released a new browser called Edge. As this is being written, Edge does not support extensions or plugins, but that will likely change in the future.
What’s the Difference Between These Search Engines?
Tineye is the original web-wide reverse image search tool, so it’s been around the longest. It’s plugins are available for more different browsers. TinEye doesn’t generally include LinkedIn profile photos in its database, so it’s not the right tool to see if a LinkedIn user stole somebody else’s LinkedIn photo for their account. (Yes, it does happen, surprisingly frequently.) However, if you want to see if a LinkedIn photo is used elsewhere on the web, TinEye may work. Sometimes TinEye succeeds where the others don’t.
Google Image Search
Google Image Search is newer than TinEye, but it has the power of Google search behind it. Google does catalog LinkedIn photos (and those of most other social media, too). Usually, a quick Google image search will find more hits than the other services.
Note that your profile photo doesn’t just show up on your profile on LinkedIn. It can also pop up when you view somebody else’s profile, publish an article, post in a group, add a comment, or be included in LinkedIn’s “People who viewed this profile also viewed….” Some of those images pop up and disappear regularly.
Therefore, you can use Google image search to see if there is more than one account with the same photo, but you may also find the photo legitimately associated with other people’s accounts, too. However, if you find the same photo used as the main profile photo on more than one account, you can safely assume that at least one of those photos was stolen.Tracing the photo back to other social media may find the real owner of the photo.
Bing Image Search
Bing image search is a bit less well-known, but has the backing of Microsoft. However, that backing – so far – doesn’t involve plugins for Internet Explorer or the new Microsoft Edge browser. You can use Bing image search in Chrome and Firefox.
Bing, like Google, does appear to scan LinkedIn’s photos and other social media, too. Bing has a very different interface. It adds a small icon to searchable photos. Instead of opening up in a different browser tab, it creates an overlay above the same web page. It reports its findings in a photo viewer, not as typical search results. When Bing attaches a name to a photo, it automatically searches for other people with similar names, so it’s easier to get sidetracked into unrelated searches.
How You Can Use Image Search with LinkedIn – A Classic Example
Let’s say you received an invitation request or that your LinkedIn search has come up with a partial name or profile. As a result, you’ve landed on the following LinkedIn profile.
Looking at this profile, something feels suspicious, like maybe you’ve seen the photo in a different context. Or maybe you want to visit her business website or follow Mona’s posts on Twitter before accepting an invitation. A quick image search might be just the trick.
As you can see above, Mona’s photo has the Bing image search icon on the upper right corner. As you point at it, your cursor changes shape. To search, all you need to do it click on the magnifying glass.
As you can see, Bing’s search results look different from other image search tools. Here we see a photo from Mona’s Facebook page, along with painter Lenni Da Vinci – a good indication that the original LinkedIn image is a real one. Note also the image bar that includes related images and the right and left navigation arrows on the page. Click on the white X to exit the search and return to your LinkedIn page. (There’s also an age estimation tool, which calculated Mona’s age to be about 25.)
To use Google’s or TinEye’s web search plugins, you simple point directly at the photo with your mouse, right-click, and select either “Search Google with this image” or “Search image with TinEye.”
The results will show in another tab. Remember to click on the new tab to view results or you’ll sit there a long time. (Yeah, I’ve done that, too.)
Both Google’s and TinEye’s search results look more like typical, well, Google search results, showing photos, where they come from, and usually including a gallery of similar images.
Image Search Tips
When there are several sizes of the same photo, try using the largest clear version of the image, which should reduce false results.
Bing Image Search doesn’t appear to work well with smaller images, such as those you see with LinkedIn announcements and updates. So you may need to view the LinkedIn member’s profile directly to get results. (Not a bad practice for the other tools, also.) When the Bing search icon doesn’t show, you can’t do a search.
Obviously, if a LinkedIn member doesn’t upload a profile photo, there’s no way to search for them with image lookup. You can use regular search engines, though.
Also, if the LinkedIn member uses a photo (perhaps a pro shot) only on LinkedIn, there may not be a match elsewhere. Facebook users are more likely to use a less formal photo on that profile, so matches between a LinkedIn photo and a Facebook photo are harder to find. However, if a person is actively building their social media “brand,” they’re likely going to use the same photo everywhere.
You can also start an image search with a photo elsewhere on the web (say, on Twitter or Pinterest) to see if it also shows on a LinkedIn account. (Don’t use TinEye for this purpose, since it doesn’t catalog LinkedIn images.)
Likewise, when looking for duplicate (stolen) profile photos on LinkedIn, use Google or Bing, not TinEye, for the same reason. TinEye can sometimes find LinkedIn photos duplicated elsewhere on the web.
Generally, Google usually finds the most matches for any photo. In a few cases, though, TinEye’s results were more focused than Google’s. I’ve used Bing’s search tool much less, but it’s results seem to be fairly comprehensive.
You can have all three search plugins installed in Chrome, giving you the ability to try each of the search engines, with a single click for each search. They shouldn’t conflict with each other.
HR staff already use image search as part of a background check. Job seekers can turn the tables and search for more info on the person who will interview them. You can also search a photo for a recruiter, hiring manager, potential boss, bloggers, and more.
What if I don’t have a Plug-in?
The plugins (particularly in Chrome) make image search with LinkedIn much easier. But you can still search without any plugins. Go to Google Image search, Bing image search (then click on the Image Match button), or TinEye.
All of these tools should let you search in at least two of three ways:
- Upload the image from your computer,
- Enter the URL (the http:// address) to an online image (every online photo has one),
- Drag and drop the image onto the search bar.
From LinkedIn try:
- Click on the profile image once so it opens in a separate window, then right click and copy the image URL. You can paste that link into the search tool.
- Download the image to your computer and then upload it to the search engine (this takes the longest)
- Put the search engine and the LinkedIn page in separate, side-by-side windows, then drag the image to the search tool.
Alternate Image Search Engines
There are many other search engines available, each with its own features.
If you are looking up the photo of a Russian, or doing a Russian-related search, Yandex is Russia’s largest search engine.
Baidu is China’s search giant and also offers a reverse image search.
Smartphone users might want to try Google Goggles, and the TinEye + Google app.
Don’t just search for LinkedIn photos
Image search might also be useful for learning about people or things when you only have an image to go by.
If you find a subject matter expert on Twitter or elsewhere online, do a quick search to find their other social media accounts.
If you blog and find an interesting image elsewhere, search to find the legitimate source.(Be aware of copyright and licensing restrictions.)
You can also use image search to shop for clothing, a gadget, a computing device, or just about anything else. You can sometimes use it to find out if a photo is real or if it was doctored in Photoshop or another tool.
If you create images, you can also see whether somebody else on the web is stealing your work (or using it legally, too).
Should I Check My Own Photo?
Yes, you should do a search on your own photo, just like you should search on your own name from time to time to see who others find when they do a similar search.
Sometimes your photo turns up on other websites for good reasons:
- You left a comment and your photo shows up (particularly using Disqus),
- Somebody shared your tweet or other comment (and photo),
- You were in the news and you shared your professional photo,
- Your blog post was shared or linked to,
- You may show up on somebody else’s Twitter account if they follow you.
You should make sure somebody else hasn’t stolen your photo for a fake profile or for other vile purposes.
Image search is not the only way to research LinkedIn members, but it is quick and easy. We’ve previously written about using Google search with LinkedIn in LinkedIn Basics: Using Google Image Search.
Title LinkedIn member images were taken from my LinkedIn endorsements and altered in Photoshop and Topaz plugins.
Image of Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa is, to the best of my knowledge, a photo from the now defunct Wax Museum at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco. It was clipped from results from Bing’s image search.
The Mona Lisa LinkedIn profile was cobbled together by the author, Andrew Brandt.