Privacy Assessment on Reconstructed Images: Are Existing Evaluation Metrics Faithful to Human Perception?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Xiaoxiao Sun, Nidham Gazagnadou, Vivek Sharma, Lingjuan Lyu, Hongdong Li, Liang Zheng


Hand-crafted image quality metrics, such as PSNR and SSIM, are commonly used to evaluate model privacy risk under reconstruction attacks. Under these metrics, reconstructed images that are determined to resemble the original one generally indicate more privacy leakage. Images determined as overall dissimilar, on the other hand, indicate higher robustness against attack. However, there is no guarantee that these metrics well reflect human opinions, which offers trustworthy judgement for model privacy leakage. In this paper, we comprehensively study the faithfulness of these hand-crafted metrics to human perception of privacy information from the reconstructed images. On 5 datasets ranging from natural images, faces, to fine-grained classes, we use 4 existing attack methods to reconstruct images from many different classification models and, for each reconstructed image, we ask multiple human annotators to assess whether this image is recognizable. Our studies reveal that the hand-crafted metrics only have a weak correlation with the human evaluation of privacy leakage and that even these metrics themselves often contradict each other. These observations suggest risks of current metrics in the community. To address this potential risk, we propose a learning-based measure called SemSim to evaluate the Semantic Similarity between the original and reconstructed images. SemSim is trained with a standard triplet loss, using an original image as an anchor, one of its recognizable reconstructed images as a positive sample, and an unrecognizable one as a negative. By training on human annotations, SemSim exhibits a greater reflection of privacy leakage on the semantic level. We show that SemSim has a significantly higher correlation with human judgment compared with existing metrics. Moreover, this strong correlation generalizes to unseen datasets, models and attack methods. We envision this work as a milestone for image quality evaluation closer to the human level. The project webpage can be accessed at