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Is Google's Selfie-Art Matching Feature Illegal?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 18, 2018 12:07 PM

Back in the old days, you'd have to spend a lifetime scouring museums and art collections searching for a face that looked like yours. And you might even go to your grave without finding a match. Luckily for our modern times, there's an app for that.

In December, Google's Arts & Culture app added a feature that instantly pairs your selfie to a work of art. But while this time-saving technological marvel is sure fun to play around with, it might be illegal where you live. Thanks, overly cautious privacy advocates.


As the Chicago Tribune reported, Google's selfie-art matchmaker was blocked in Illinois due to the state's Biometric Information Privacy Act. That law requires consent from consumers before companies can collect biometric information like facial features, fingerprints, and iris scans, and companies must also detail how they'll use the information and how long it will be kept. Private citizens can sue companies that violate the law, perhaps leading to Google's overabundance of caution in restricting users from taking advantage of that part of the app in Illinois.

The feature was also blocked in the Lone Star State. Texas also has a law barring the use of facial recognition technology to identify people without consent. While consent might seem easy to obtain given the app's viral popularity, Google is already facing class action litigation in Illinois over alleged "faceprint" databases.

Portrait Pair

Despite the legal limitations, a few cunning Illinois and Texas residents have discovered creative workarounds to the bans, according to the Houston Chronicle:

Some folks have had good luck by turning off location services, which is found in iOS at Settings > Privacy > Location Services. (Android users, check here.) Typically, you can turn off location on a per-app basis, but Arts & Culture doesn't have this setting. You'll have to turn off location services altogether, though at least one Twitter user told me he had it turned off globally for all Google apps and that allowed him to see the feature.

If that doesn't work, you could also try using a Virtual Private Network to create a secure and anonymous connection to the internet, which would mask where you're located, or simply send a selfie to an out-of-state friend and await the results.

Otherwise, it's like you're back in the dark ages, scouring the earth for your fine art doppelganger.

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