This Google app is raising privacy concerns and social media buzz

Maybe you’ve seen a friend – or more likely, a celebrity – using Google’s new Art & Culture app. You know, the one where their selfie is matched with the most similar-looking painting from Google’s enormous art database? Well according to Google, the app has already seen over 30 million downloads. Depending on your perspective, that either means 30 million people are just having some fun with this new tech, or 30 million people have just used Google’s facial recognition technology without understanding the privacy implications. As it turns out, many are concerned about the latter.

People are concerned that Google could be doing anything it wants with the facial data it collects via the application. To amend some of these worries, Google has added a disclaimer in the app, and written in a blog post that it “only keeps [the data] for the time it takes to search for matches.”

Despite this attempt to placate fears, some jurisdictions remain so skeptical of this technology that the selfie aspect of the Art & Culture app is prohibited. According to AdWeek, the selfie matching feature “isn’t available in Illinois and Texas, due to laws that heavily restrict how companies can use biometric technology.”

There are also conflicting voices on whether or not Google’s promises are to be believed. Travis Jarae, CEO of identity research company One World Identity, told AdWeek that “we have no reason to doubt Google’s claim that selfies are only stored in the cloud long enough to generate portrait matches, and are not saved on any servers.”

Jarae believes Google is likely using the selfies to “train and improve the quality of their facial recognition AI.” But he does want people to think about the data they’re giving apps and do research about the implications.

Conversely, the director of privacy and data for the Center for Democracy and Technology, Michelle De Mooy, told AdWeek that people should be wary. ““It’s important to consider that the only thing governing their practices at the moment (except in Texas and Illinois) is their privacy policy, which might change,” De Mooy explained.

The point to take away is, be aware of what data you’re giving applications, and read the privacy policies and disclaimers before you do. Be aware of the potential risk, and decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth it.