Not just a pretty face-swapping tool
By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer
Lauded as “the most viral must-have app since Pokémon Go” by the Vancouver Sun, Google Arts & Culture has taken the number-one spot for most downloads on Android and iPhone. The app has been around since 2016, yet only now has there been a spike in popularity. What is it that’s been driving people to download an app that discusses, well, arts and culture?
The main reason for its newfound popularity is the recently-added selfie feature that compares the user’s ugly mug to famous works of art through facial recognition technology. However, this function has been criticized by those who fear it’s an invasion of privacy and who question what exactly Google does with a person’s selfie long after it’s been matched.
Michelle Luo, Product Manager for Google Arts & Culture, explicitly stated in a blog post that “Google doesn’t use [a person’s] selfie for anything else and only keeps it for the time it takes to search for matches.”
Despite people’s wariness over whether or not to trust the app, over 30 million selfies have been taken worldwide within just a few days of the update. The purpose of the selfie feature is not only fun (and at times, terribly inaccurate) it’s also a learning tool. Once you’ve been matched with several paintings, you can click on the faces and see the entire painting and its description.
However, Google Arts & Culture isn’t just about mildly offending you by comparing you to a bearded nobleman (every single time, no matter what angle the camera faces you). The app has access to over 1,000 art gallery collections from all over the world, allowing people who can’t afford to travel to Musée d’Orsay or the Kyoto National Museum to see the artwork in these collections with a single swipe. Take a look at Van Gogh’s work up close and personal, as the app allows you to zoom in on specific parts of the image. It’s almost like touching the painting in real life, with the added perk of not being immediately removed from the gallery for doing so.
Also, the app can take you to cultural landmarks by linking you to YouTube’s 360-degree videos. Places such as the fireworks of the Festa del Redentore can be seen with the 360-degree video from the launch point view of the fireworks. Not unlike Google Maps’ street view, you can visit the Taj Mahal, Palace of Versailles, Alcatraz Island, and many other famous locations. If your phone is fancy enough, or you’ve made a cardboard viewer, you can also take VR tours of other beautiful art and cultural sites, including the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Overall, this app can be used for so much more than a face matchup with various paintings around the world. You might download it for the selfie comparison, then keep it for other interesting features that bring you closer to arts and culture worldwide.