Feeble human! Your spouse is clamoring for cute kid photos and you once again forgot to send them. Well, stand aside: Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) will now share your photos for you.
They will be shared automatically, aided by facial recognition and a somewhat kludgy understanding of who you have relationships with. It’s a concept that some are going to be very happy about: getting photos shared to the appropriate recipients has been a holy grail for plenty of startups, and Facebook already does it in its Moments app. Does it more elegantly, too, notes The Verge: after all, Facebook already knows who your friends are.
Google doesn’t. Rather, it guesses, based on whether you’ve sent pictures of the same face to the same phone number or email address. “Must be a buddy,” Google Photos muses, then suggests you share your next few photos of that face with that same recipient.
If this supposed buddy is also a Photos user, they can save your photos to their own library with one tap, and they can share their own photos back to you.
Another new, upcoming feature is Shared Libraries. It will allow you to set up automatic sharing of photos featuring certain people or starting at a certain date with one chosen contact – say, your spouse, who’d likely love to automatically get every photo you snap of your tots. Or you can share a library with whoever you’re cheating on them with. Hopefully, never the twain shall meet nor eyeball the wrong photos.
This is not Inflicted Sharing, though it might turn out that way if you somehow slip up – say, if you unintentionally touch the “share” button – or get forced into sharing your photos.
Suggested Sharing is one of three new features for Google Photos. It’s not the only feature that’s getting slathered with AI: also on the way “soon” is the ability to turn images of business cards into contacts with one tap, plus the ability to link photos of landmarks and paintings to descriptions from Google’s Knowledge Graph: a database Google uses to enhance search results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources, such as what other people searched for, or from your own photos.
Sounds good to some photo-sharers, for sure. But others are already creeped out about the upcoming features, seeing them as a privacy intrusion that, for example, can easily be wielded against those in abusive and/or controlling relationships … or which, again, can blow your cover if you need privacy.
Recode points out that Google’s rosy vision of how the new features will work doesn’t take into account that photo sharing has the potential to yield a good amount of awful. Tess Townsend has suggested a long list of what can go wrong, ranging from the embarrassing – sharing with an ex after your breakup, if you both forget to turn off sharing – to situations in which we could be bullied into sharing photos.
From her Recode article:
A demanding, and perhaps abusive, friend or family member demands that you turn on photo sharing. It becomes more difficult in an already difficult situation to maintain your privacy.
Google Photos product lead David Lieb, who’s in charge of design and product management of the app, told Recode:
You don’t have to use any of these features. And if you do choose to use them, we’ve provided a bunch of controls.
He said that whomever you share photos with can’t see whether you’re sharing all of your photos with them, or just a subset. Other privacy controls will include options to turn off facial recognition of a user’s face, plus the ability to prevent their names from automatically appearing in other users’ Suggested Share field in Google Photos.
Does the idea of facial recognition mainlining our Google connections, beefed up with AI, sound like a privacy problem in the making? We’e already seen Google steer itself into a privacy wreckage over Street View.
It’s long been a challenge for the company to operate Street View in countries with stronger privacy laws than the US, such as in the European Union.
Though Google uses technology to blur faces and license plates in Street View images, European data protection authorities have also required that Google notify the public before the Street View cars start driving on European streets and that it limit the amount of time that it keeps unblurred images of faces and license plates.
So imagine this: Google Street View on steroids, beefed up with machine learning and running on the fuel of all the images Google has access to, in back pockets throughout the world: a project we learned of in February 2016, when Google researchers were talking about having trained a deep-learning machine to work out the location of almost any photo, just going by its pixels – no Exif data required – and the context of whatever other images are in a user’s photo library.
Readers, will you share? Or will you ask Google to please refrain from reaching its Googly hands deep into your pixels? Please let us know your thoughts on the pluses and minuses of the new Photos features in the comments below.