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May 20, 2017

Google wants to share your photos with your nearest and not-dearest

Google’s war on privacy goes on:

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.

What could go wrong? Lots. Tess Townsend used her imagination:

  • You set up photo sharing with your spouse or partner. The two of you split and you both forget to turn it off. They continue to receive whatever photos, and you may wish you hadn’t sent those or they may not wish to receive them. You can go still switch off the connection, but you can’t un-see the photos.
  • A demanding, and perhaps abusive, friend or family member insists that you turn on photo sharing. It becomes more difficult in an already difficult situation to maintain your privacy. Lieb notes that whoever you share photos with does not see an indication of whether you have the app set to show your selected sharing contact all of your photos or just a subset.
  • You’re taking photos of a group of friends and Google is suggesting you send the photos to someone you don’t want to show them to for whatever reason. Perhaps the suggested recipient is an ex or a former friend with whom you not longer speak. It’s your decision whether to press send, but this can be an unsettling experience, and sometimes fingers slip.
  • Maybe that person’s name is included in a group of names, you miss that it’s there or mistake it for another name, act quickly, and hit send.
  • You take a photo you don’t want to share with anyone. Google either automatically shares it or suggests that you share it.

The de facto Google slogan is Privacy Is Dead. The company has suffered from one privacy bugaboo after another (the WiSpy scandal, the Buzz debacle) but it keeps pressing forward.

There were reports a few years ago that Google had shelved plans to debut facial recognition technologies because it was concerned that there would be a backlash. Now, apparently, the brass at the Monster of Mountain View have judged that now is the right time to go forward.

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