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Google Arts and Culture selfie app raises security, racism concerns among users

Users are concerned as to what Google is doing with the selfies they have been clicking on the app.

  • Published: January 18, 2018 2:30 PM IST
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Image credit: Whitsie, Twitter


Earlier this week, the Google Arts and Culture app really picked up the trends and the selfies from the app, spread like wildfire on social media. The popularity shots up so, when the feature was just running beta, and was exclusive to users in the United States. However, the app has now drawn concerns from some that the privacy of the users may be at risk.

Users have are now questioning whether sharing their images with the Google app is potentially surrendering their facial recognition details to Google.

BGR India has reached out to Google to know more about the issue.

The Google Arts and Culture app uses machine learning to recognize a person’s face in the selfie, including the position of their head. It then compares the face to a bank of selected artwork to find matches.

In Google’s defense, the app also prompts that it “will only store your photo for the time it takes to search for matches”. Google says that these selfies are not being used to train machine learning programs, build a database of faces or for any other purpose. “Google is not using these selfies for anything other than art matches,” spokesman Patrick Lenihan told Washington Post.

There’s another aspect to the questions being raised against the app. Apart from the data security concerns, there are also concerns regarding racism.

A lot of people online have complained and even Newsweekobserved that the Google app isn’t that great at returning results for other races than the whites. However, the report says that might not be Google’s fault. The app may be pulling from disproportionately Eurocentric art that almost exclusively portrays white subjects. If that’s the case, there’s no way Google can fix it.

This takes us back a few years ago, when Google’s Photos app came under fire when an algorithm identified black people as gorillas. The company “fixed” the problem by completely removing the “gorilla” category from its algorithms.

The latest version of the Google Arts & Culture app allows users to match their selfies against celebrated portraits pulled from more than 1,200 museums in more than 70 countries. The find-your-art-lookalike feature has been available since mid-December last year, however, the app only rocketed to up the charts earlier this week.

  • Published Date: January 18, 2018 2:30 PM IST