Expect To See More Apps Like Google's Selfie-Matching One In The Near Future

Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Sallie Bolling, Margaret Rogers, Woman with Lute, and Anna Maria Uden: I don't see the resemblance, but these are the women, or rather portraits, that Google's Arts & Culture app has decided my face most closely mirrors. If you spent any time scrolling through Instagram or Twitter this weekend, you likely saw an abundance of side-by-side posts matching famous artwork with shot-on-the-fly selfies.
Google's Arts & Culture app has been around since July 2016, but the selfie matching feature was launched in December. Although it didn't create much, if any, hype when it was first released, the tool went viral this weekend — making it the first standout app of 2018. According to a Google spokesperson, some 12.8 million selfie comparisons had been drawn through the app as of Monday, January 15, with an average 450,000 matches taking place every hour. While Google hasn't been able to identify a single social post that sparked the matching frenzy, it's likely that celebrity users, such as Felicia Day and The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani, helped raise its profile.
For celebrities who haven't shared their matches on social media, a new Instagram account, @googleartscelebs, matches their headshots with famous artworks for you to see:
However, for all the interest in the "find your art doppelgänger" tool, there have been mixed reactions. First, there's the rage of those who can't use it to figure out which oil painting or Greek sculpture best resembles them: The feature is just an experiment right now, and is only available in select parts of the U.S, though there may be plans to expand. If you are in an area where it is available, you'll see "Is your portrait in a museum?" when you scroll down the app's homepage. Click "get started" to agree to terms and conditions, take your photo, and get your match.
For those who have been able to try the addictive matching tool (yes, you will get different results depending on the lighting and angle your selfie is shot at, as well as your expression), some security concerns about the app's use of machine learning have been raised. These are akin to the fears that surfaced when Apple announced the iPhone X's facial recognition technology last September.
According to a Google spokesperson, the selfies users take with the app are not saved to any server and are only held in the Cloud long enough to match a portrait. That is to say, your selfie information is not being used to train an internal AI algorithm.
However, the concerns are legitimate ones that touch on the larger skepticism that surrounds facial recognition as it makes its way to the mainstream. Even though you've likely come face-to-face with facial recognition on social media in years past (think about Facebook's tagging suggestions when you upload a photo), the technology is quickly becoming the new norm for all sorts of things — from playful app integrations like Google's Arts and Culture usage to smartphone security. According to research from Markets and Markets, the facial recognition market is expected to grow from $4 billion in 2017 to $7.7 billion by 2022. In other words, the technology isn't going anywhere.
For good measure, be sure to read those epically long security agreements before using an app or device with facial recognition. Take note of how a service is using your photo, in the same way you check how your personal information, such as your phone number and email address, are being used.
For now, though, you can rest assured that your resemblance with a 17th-century Dutchman is limited to your eyes only. Unless, of course, you choose to share it.
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