Google’s Fine Art Selfies Have Gone Viral, But You Won’t Get Them In Texas

The company has blocked Texans from using the popular selfies because of the state’s biometric privacy law.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 18, 2018 7:35 am

Does it suddenly seem like people are posting a lot of fine art on social media? Over the past few days, Google’s Arts and Culture app has exploded in popularity – even though it’s been around since 2016 – thanks to its viral selfie feature. You take a picture of yourself and the app locates a work of art that’s similar. It’s currently at the top of both iOS and Android’s most-downloaded lists.

But if you’re trying to access the app in Texas, you might notice that the popular feature is curiously missing. Texas is one of two states in the U.S. – Illinois is the other – where people can’t use it.

Jack Nicas, a tech reporter for the Wall Street Journal, says the app uses a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning to find the matches.

“This sort of biometric analysis – which is the analysis of your face or your fingerprints or anything that is inherent to you – has been a concern of privacy advocates for a long time,” he says.

Nicas says the Chinese government uses security cameras and facial recognition to track its citizens.

“In Russia, there’s an app where you can take a photo of a stranger out in public and it will tell you their social media profile,” he says.

But not in Texas. Because of the state’s biometric privacy laws, Nicas says, the Google Arts and Culture selfie feature isn’t allowed.

“A few years ago, Texas passed a law that said companies needed to have user consent before they used or collected their biometric information, including their fingerprints or their ‘face geometry.’ And as a result,” he says, “Google, being cautious here, has decided not to release this selfie tool [for] users in Texas.”

Nicas says he spoke with a privacy law professor at Georgetown University who was surprised that Google’s blocking the feature in Texas, because the app does require consent and appears to comply with Texas law.

Written by Jen Rice.