Please don't underestimate Google Lens

Especially when posing next to landmarks you think aren't "that famous"

I have to admit that when I used this photo, provided by the wonderful Alex de Campi, in my latest geolocation challenge, I was playing with you guys just a little:

I said that this one was for people who wanted a bigger challenge, but I was trying to throw everyone off the scent. Because the minute Alex told me where the picture was actually taken, I figured that people who know of the existence of Google Lens will find it in a few seconds.

And they did. The first right answer came in at 2 minutes:

Although Abhi did correct the spelling, he got the location just right:

Robin explained how this was done:

And he specified his actions:

Do you see how the monument is distinct? This is what Google Lens picks up on.

As Alex herself pointed out to me, her location was determined *very* precisely, as in, the very ground she was standing on:

As Alex said, this Brooklyn park is not exactly small. But focus on enough details besides the monument, and you’ll get your exact spot.

The thing about our brains is that they pick up on certain details but not others. The Prison Ship Martyrs monument, featured in the background of Alex’s photo, isn’t exactly the Statue of Liberty. A lot of people won’t think of it as instantly “recognizable.” Therefore it may appear “nondescript” to us, or at least “vague” enough to where it isn’t giving away our location.

Technology, however, is already doing the recognizing for us. We’re helping it by uploading photos over and over again. This means that any reasonably crowded place such as Brooklyn is more “readable” for technology than others.

Why is this seemingly boring geolocation challenge important? Because the fact that technology is outpacing our reasoning and our instincts is a safety and/or privacy concern. A lot of people simply DON’T KNOW how easily their location can be automatically pinpointed, even without some fancy geolocation method involved.

A lot of people — and a lot of the times, at least in my experience, it’s older people — think they’re being discreet with their photos when they’re anything but (I’ve recently been involved in such a case, and I hope to tell you guys about it soon, it’s a fascinating case study).

So when you’re out and about, be aware of the landmarks. Know that there are automated systems for recognizing many of them now. And keep a close eye on your digital footprint if privacy matters to you! Yes, even if you think of yourself as an “ordinary” person with a “boring” job. Most of the clients I have who deal with stalkers, for example, are perfectly “ordinary” people.

Did you learn something new today? Just a $5 monthly subscription keeps this project afloat, so please consider it! And much thanks to Alex de Campi for helping me with this one.