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Google App with Facial Recognition Raises Privacy Concerns

Emily Chen, Staff Writer

The Google Arts and Culture app, which has been available for over a year, has recently spiked in popularity after a feature was added that matches users’ selfies to their look-alike in famous paintings. The feature was created for fun, but some people are skeptical about using it due to growing privacy concerns.

The art selfie feature isn’t the first of its kind. Other apps that use facial recognition include Snapchat, face-swap apps, and apps that guess your age based on your picture. Apple’s iPhone X even uses face identification as a security measure for the device. In all of these applications, facial recognition software is used to locate certain facial features. By pinpointing the position and size of several landmark features like your eyes and nose, algorithms can make a digital map of your entire face. With the Google Arts and Culture app, a digital map made from a user’s selfie is compared to a database of faces from famous paintings from around the world. The app finds a portrait that is closest to the photo, and compares the two side by side. It even displays the title of the painting, its painter, and the museum where it can be found.

Even though the facial recognition feature was created for the purpose of learning about arts and culture, some people are concerned about how the data it gathers about their individual faces might affect their privacy. Patrick Lenihan, a Google spokesperson, said that, “Google is not using these selfies for anything other than art matches.” Additionally, the Google Arts and Culture app states that it “will only store your photo for the time it takes to search for matches.” Even so, some people still avoid using it.

In some states, the art selfie feature of the Google Arts and Culture app was made unavailable. Users from both Texas and Illinois have access to the rest of the app, but not the facial recognition. This is because both states have laws against the collection of biometrics, which are measurements of the body. Examples of biometric data range from fingerprints and facial recognition data to iris and retina data and DNA.

Putting the facial recognition debate aside, the Google Arts and Culture app was made to help people explore art pieces from around the world without having to actually travel. With thousands of pieces in its database, it’s like having the planet’s largest and most diverse art museum at your fingertips.


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Google App with Facial Recognition Raises Privacy Concerns