Google's Arts & Culture App is pairing selfies with... art?

The Google Arts and Culture app has been one of the most downloaded apps in iTunes Store for over 2 weeks. 

This new version of the Google Arts and Culture app includes a feature that matches users’ selfies to art-lookalikes in some of the world’s greatest works of art from more than 1,500 museums in more than 70 countries. 

This app millions of artifacts and pieces of art digitally, but exploring their vast collection can be a bit overwhelming. 

“To make it easier, we [Google Arts & Culture] dreamt up a fun solution: connect people by art by way of a fundamental artistic pursuit, the search for self…or, in this case the selfie”, said Michelle Luo, Product Manager, Google Arts & Culture.

Facial Recognition

I must admit, I was a bit creeped out at the thought of downloading my image to a Google app.  After all, it's Google (a.k.a. “Big Brother") watching. They already have my entire search history - do I really want to give them with my permission an image of my face to use in their app?

I am glad I did because it's a super cool app and a great way to introduce your kids to classic works of art they would never see in museums from all over the world.


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The app’s art selfie feature matches users’ uploaded selfies with portraits or faces featured in some of the most important woks of art in the works. Available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and U.S with the exception of Illinois and Texas due to their very strict laws on use of biometrics (facial, fingerprints, and iris scans).   

Many advocates of digital rights privacy have expressed support of the biometrics laws. “If someone gets my credit card number, I can change it. I can change my Social Security number with some headaches,” said Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer at San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But without extraordinary science-fiction intervention, our faces and our fingerprints and our DNA, we’re born with it and we’re going to die with it.”

Other biometric experts are less concerned. Mathew Kugler, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law who has published works on privacy policies related to the biometrics, recently told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s hard to know how much of a person’s privacy is harmed by allowing companies to collect biometric data, like a map of his or her face.”

Google is adamant that they are only using the images for the intended purpose to connect users with art. “Google is not using these selfies for anything other than art matches,” said Google spokesperson Patrick Linehan. 

Below is the statement that appears on the app before you can submit a selfie.


"When you take a photo with this feature, your photo is sent to Google to find artworks that look like you. Google won't use data from your photo for any other purpose and will only store your photo for the time it takes to search for matches."


Connecting Kids to Art Through Selfies

For me personally, anything that connects my children to art - even if it is via a selfie - is a win. Exploring the app with my kids exposed them to artists from museums around the world.  

Google, you get an A+ from me on this ingenious use of the selfie to connect children to great works of art!

Full disclosure, while I give the app an A+, my kids gave it a B-/C+ because while they thought it was interesting, it was not "cool enough" for them to share on social media.  

After all, in the teen world, if it's not shared on social media, it basically doesn't exist. So, Google you may want to work on the "cool factor" a bit more if you want more than parents sharing on social media.

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About Kristin MacLaughlin

Mom of three, fosters rescued dogs, and is helping to drive the conversation about digital parenting as VP of Consumer Marketing for Zift.

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