Google Arts & Culture app is introducing a vast collection of artworks to many through selfies and an algorithm. Two states, however, are missing from the rounds of residents posting their selfies on social media.
Residents of Illinois and Texas were blocked from using the viral app's selfie tool. Privacy laws in each state made Google remove the feature.
As soon the Arts & Culture app rose to become the most downloaded app, concerns over privacy arose as well. Why was everyone so willing to hand their selfie over to one of the biggest tech companies? Google did downplay features of storing users' personal information by saying it would not use selfies for anything other than art matches.
State laws in Illinois and Texas ban the collection of biometric data causing Google to block the service to avoid problems with the states. A record of "face geometry" cannot be obtained without the user's consent.
Laws in Illinois make it possible for individuals to sue companies directly. Texas also has strict biometric laws but it is up to the attorney general to sue companies. Google is already facing a lawsuit in Illinois regarding facial recognition against Google Photos. Another state that passed biometric laws is Washington state but users can still use the app there.
Adam Schwartz, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- a digital privacy group, says biometrics hurt privacy. Schwartz also raised the point that while credit card numbers can be changed, facial features cannot.
People have been getting around the ban by using VPNs, which can make it seem like they are located elsewhere.
The Arts & Culture app is currently the most downloaded app in the Apple app store and Google Play app store. Users have been posting results of selfie matches all over social media. Google says 12.8 million people had downloaded the app.
Over the weekend, users were taking 450,000 selfies an hour to get a match in famous artworks. The app was built by a group of Google employees in Paris. They were shocked to learn that the app had taken off with so many people.
The growing availability of facial recognition can be worrisome to people who are uncertain with how the technology can be used. China uses the same technology to tracks its citizens and influence people's behavior.
The app's selfie feature is only available in the United States.