Is it possible that google image search is psychic?
April 1, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How does google image search find untagged people in a Picasa web album? How can I make it stop?

I posted an album on my Picasa page that was mostly pictures of me and my friend, let's call her Jane Doe. In this album, I captioned the photos saying things like "me and Jane" "Jane walking" etc. At no point did I refer to her as Jane Doe. Now, when you conduct a google image search on "Jane Doe", my album comes up. How does it know that the photos are related to Jane "Doe" at all? I never said her last name. Moreover, besides making the album private, is there a way to stop this?

Our only guess so far is that I "shared" my album with Jane in an email invitation entitled something like "Jane Doe comes to visit". Is it possible that google image search looks at my Picasa invitations (which I understand are just variations of regular emails from my google mail account)?

A google search for returns no results so I don't think anyone is linking to my page.

I am grateful to google for all it gives us, and I don't mind them using the information in my emails for anonymous market research and personalized ads, but I would find it a little weird if a google search is yielding information that was only included in what I assumed was a private email. Is this what is happening?
posted by emmykm to Technology (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
i know google image search added some basic facial recognition features back in 2007 so perhaps they're expanding that feature?

better start stocking up on tinfoil, those hats are going to sell like hot cakes!
posted by hummercash at 11:04 AM on April 1, 2009

one other thought...

have you tried searching for Jane Doe in other image search engines? it would be interesting to know if you get similar results.
posted by hummercash at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2009

How common is Jane Doe's real first name? I know my wife's first name is pretty unique and so I don't even have to use "XXXX Smarson," I just need "XXXX" and pictures of her come up.

Other than that, could it be something in the album meta-data?

If hummercash is right about the Google Image Search getting smarter about the facial recognition stuff....well jeebus help us all then.
posted by Smarson at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2009

Now, when you conduct a google image search on "Jane Doe", my album comes up.

In quotation marks or not? If not, then it could come up if you've used the last name anywhere on the page.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:36 AM on April 1, 2009

Maybe someone linked the album, with "Jane Doe" in the link text?
posted by Pronoiac at 11:43 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: hummercrash, I heard about that face recognition software, but I understand that you have to tag someone once for it to work. Is that right?

Jane's real first name is quite common. When I google image search just her first name it comes up with only other people, including some movie stars. So it has to be the combination of first and last name.

Smarson, do you know anything more about what is in the album metadata? The input for it must come from somewhere, right?

Jaltcoh, the search does not include quotation marks and I am sure I didn't write her last name anywhere on the page.
posted by emmykm at 11:57 AM on April 1, 2009

It's possible someone made a hyperlink to your album, or a picture in the album, using "Jane Doe" as the link text. Google counts this as your page being "about" Jane Doe, hence it comes up. You can use the "link:" search function in Google to see if anyone has linked to the album. You use it by searching for:
For example
returns all the pages that link to AskMe.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2009

Yes, it's likely that Google guessed this from when you clicked the Picassa "Share" button. Are you sure the results are the same for everyone? It's possible that if you did the same search from a computer where you weren't logged into any Google services, Jane might not appear in the results for "Jane Doe" (or at least not as high in the result ranking).
posted by paulg at 12:17 PM on April 1, 2009

Have you used her whole name elsewhere in your profile? If so, google might be showing the new photos because they're more recent, even though the text it's snagging is somewhere else. Go through and look to see whether you mention her anywhere else in your Picasa account.
posted by hermitosis at 1:06 PM on April 1, 2009

Are you logged into your google account when you make the search? The "personalized search" feature might be on by default. You might try running the search when you're not logged in or from a different browser to see if you get different results.
posted by zepheria at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2009

It doesn't even have to be you who made the link -- if Jane linked to the photos from her own page, it could be easy for Google to have figured out.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:09 AM on April 2, 2009

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