At the Google I/O 2024 keynote today, CEO Sundar Pichai debuted a new feature for the nine-year-old Google Photos app: 'Ask Photos', an AI-powered tool that acts as an augmented search function for your photos.

The goal here is to make finding specific photos faster and easier. You ask a question – Pichai's example is 'what's my license plate number' – and the app uses AI to scan through your photos and provide a useful answer. In this case, it isolates the car that appears the most, then presents you with whichever photo shows the number plate most clearly.

Google IO 2024

I really want to know if this is a Google employee’s actual child or if it’s a Gemini-generated kid… (Image credit: Google )

It can reportedly handle more in-depth queries, too: Pichai went on to explain that if your hypothetical daughter Lucia has been learning to swim, you could ask the app to 'show me how Lucia's swimming has progressed', and it'll present you with a slideshow showcasing Lucia's progression. The AI (powered by Google's Gemini model) is capable of identifying the context of images, such as differentiating between swimming in a pool and snorkeling in the ocean, and even highlighting the dates on photos of her swimming certificates.

While the Photos app already had a search function, it was fairly rudimentary, only really capable of identifying text within images and retrieving photos from selected dates and locations. 

Ask Photos is apparently “an experimental feature” that will start to roll out “soon”, and it could get more features in the future. As it is, it's a seriously impressive upgrade – so why am I terrified of it?

Eye spy

A major concern surrounding AI models is data security. Gemini is a predominantly cloud-based AI tool (its data parameters are simply too large to be run locally on your device), which introduces a potential security vulnerability as your data has to be sent to an external server via the internet, a flaw that doesn't exist for on-device AI tools.

Ask Photos is powerful enough to not only register important personal details from your camera roll, but also understand the context behind them. In other words, the Photos app – perhaps one of the most innocuous apps on your Android phone's home screen – just became the app that potentially knows more about your life than any other.

I can't be the only person who saw this revealed at Google I/O and immediately thought 'oh, this sounds like an identity thief's dream'. How many of us have taken a photo of a passport or ID to complete an online sign-up? If malicious actors gain remote access to your phone or are able to intercept your Ask Photos queries, they could potentially take better advantage of your photo library than ever before.

Google says it's guarding against this kind of scenario, stating that “The information in your photos can be deeply personal, and we take the responsibility of protecting it very seriously. Your personal data in Google Photos is never used for ads. And people will not review your conversations and personal data in Ask Photos, except in rare cases to address abuse or harm.”

It continues that “We also don't train any generative AI product outside of Google Photos on this personal data, including other Gemini models and products. As always, all your data in Google Photos is protected with our industry-leading security measures.”

So, nothing to worry about? We'll see. But quite frankly… I don't need an AI to help me manage my photo library anyway. Honestly Google, it really isn't that hard to make some folders.

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