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Futuristic visual search application 'Google Goggles' is released

December 14, 2009

by Mark Ollig

My faithful readers out there may remember the column from April 21, 2008 entitled “Cell phones may soon be your tourist guide.”

“When on vacation do you sometimes see an unfamiliar building, tree or even a mountain and wish you could instantly identify it?” I asked.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if all you needed to do was to point and click your cell phone camera at any unknown physical object or work of art and instantly learn what it is?

Well, that day has arrived – sort of.

Search engine giant Google, last week announced its release of a new experimental mobile search application called Google Goggles.

The Google Goggles application takes the picture from our cell phone and sends it to the web, where a search for information about it is performed. The information is then returned to us in real-time.

Google Goggles currently has over one billion images in its database – and it’s growing.

Currently, this application is available only for the Android operating system platform phones, running Android 1.6 software and higher. However, I am confident we will see it widely available in most mobile devices in the near future.

This application will no doubt come in handy. Say you are on vacation in Italy and looking at some unknown historical building or painting. How would you type what you are seeing into a search engine with enough clarity and details to get a specific and meaningful result back?

With Google Goggles, there’s no need to type – all you need to do is open the application on your phone, take a picture, and then wait for the search results to be presented on your display screen.

Google Goggles is a “visual search” application, meaning instead of typing words into a search engine, all we will need to do is to take a picture of an object with our cell phone’s camera and have Google attempt to recognize the object, and return the specific search results to us.

As of today, however, Google Goggles works best only with certain kinds of “visual search queries.”

Google Goggles is better able to return useful results when taking pictures of books, familiar landmarks, artwork, business store fronts, and product logos and labels. One can also obtain good results when taking pictures of barcodes or written text, where Google Goggles makes use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Google Goggles is currently working on being able to identify various plants also.

In its current model, Google Goggles does not provide reliable results when taking pictures of animals, cars, trees, furniture, or clothing.

I have a feeling they are working feverishly on a solution while you are reading this column.

In future visual search versions, I would not be surprised if “facial recognition” software elements become a part of this application.

This application may become as useful a tool as finger- prints are today to local law authorities.

When using the Google Goggles application for the first time, we would be guided through several instructional screens, one of which would present us with the option to enable or disable the search history of the current application session.

Using the search history, we would be able to view and manage the saved copies of the pictures we have taken.

The images taken will be kept by Google, which they said is to “help improve” their service.

When search history is enabled, Google will keep two separate copies of all the images you send to Google. One copy goes into your search history, which can be accessed at any time to review, share or delete.

Google uses the second copy to help their computers “see” better; Google also states – on the information I read – that they keep this second copy for 24 months.

Google says they don’t keep any other personal information which can be associated with the copies they retain for improving their service.

If the search history is disabled, Google states they will not keep any copies of images.

Regardless, it should be noted that Google Goggles will keep your cell phone’s IP address and Google account details for five weeks in temporary logs.

After five weeks Google will “anonymize” which I assumes means “to make anonymous” and archive the logs and location data received from our cell phone.

As most of us are learning, everything we do online seems to be stored someplace out there on the Internet these days.

You can read Google’s full privacy policy for mobile products (which includes Google Goggles) at: http://m.google.com/privacy.

Remember, Google Goggles is currently only available for those Android platform mobile devices running Android 1.6 software and higher.

Google has a two-minute video presentation on YouTube of how the Google Goggles application works at http://tinyurl.com/ygqzmzt.

Thomson Reuters talked to some of the folks at Google about this new application and uploaded a YouTube video at http://tinyurl.com/ybd5ufn.

The Bits & Bytes column, “Cell phones may soon be your tourist guide” can be read at http://tinyurl.com/yf587yt.