Tech companies have taken a lot of criticism--much of it deserved--over how they handle their users' personal information and privacy. Google, in particular, has been a frequent target for the ways the company tracks users online and then targets advertisements based on an individual's browsing activity. It came as little surprise to anyone that Google was listening to recorded snippets of our interactions with Google Assistant.

Now, it turns out that Google Photos is reading the text in your photos--and this time, it's a good thing. Google, on Thursday, confirmed with a tweet that it has started rolling out the ability to search the text in your photos, copy and paste it into documents and emails, or even WiFi password prompts. 

Look, Google Photos is one of those apps that has always been really useful, and yet, somehow I never use it. I mean, it's on my iPhone mostly because it provides an automatic backup of all of my photos, which is very handy, but that's about it. I know it can do all kinds of cool things like organize photos by location, easily create shared albums, or let you search by people's faces. I just never think to use it.

But this is different. This is actually something I would use on a regular basis, and it's something Apple's default Photos App does not do.

Here's why that's actually super useful:

You've been in a meeting where you come up with all kinds of great ideas written all over a whiteboard. At the end of the meeting, someone has to take a photo so you don't all forget what you brainstormed, only to have to transcribe the whole thing later. Now, when you do, Google Photos will automatically transcribe it, allow you to search the text on your whiteboard, and copy and paste that text into another document.

Or, imagine taking a photograph of a receipt and having it not only saved for later but searchable. No more scrambling to remember what you got for $29.84 at Staples come expense report time. 

And, apparently taking a photograph of the WiFi password for your wireless router is a thing. If that's you, I guess this will make it a whole lot easier to copy and paste even the most ridiculously long random string of letters and numbers.

I can already do this with Evernote. In fact, I do it all the time. The advantage with Google Photos is that it automatically syncs my photo library without me having to do anything else. I don't have to open another app, I can just take a photo with the camera, and Google Photos does the rest.

Of course, it's reasonable to ask whether or not you really want Google to start reading the text in your photos. Text recognition is part of Google Lens, which is the artificial intelligence (AI) technology that recognizes location, faces, and, now, text in your photos. That same service also saves your activity to your Google account if you have "Web & App Activity" turned on.

Google has started making it easier to delete that activity if you're worried about what the company is doing with your information. And, if you don't want it saved at all, Google says you can turn off Web & App Activity, though you lose some helpful features like saved history.

Personally, I'm not taking a lot of highly sensitive photos of company trade secrets, or anything else for that matter. I'm not that worried. As with anything, you'll have to decide for yourself if the benefit is worth the potential privacy hit. But if I never have to remember another WiFi password, I'm counting that as a small win.

Published on: Aug 26, 2019
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