Google Photos May Soon Learn Your Friends' Names, Know How They're Feeling

Google Photos is smart -- but it's about to get smarter.

Google Photos is smart -- but it's about to get smarter.

In an interview with The Huffington Post at a press event Tuesday, Anil Sabharwal, the app's lead product manager, said it will soon be able to sort photographs according to an individual's name and suggested that it could eventually understand more abstract search terms -- those pertaining to emotions, for example.

The app, which was both formally announced and released last Thursday, already sorts through your photographs and automatically catalogues them based on a variety of criteria. For instance, you can search through your photos using a term like "photos of cat," and it'll show you a bunch of pictures you've taken of kitties. But, you could also search for "photos of black cat" and it will only display those, like so:

Currently, Google Photos doesn't let you give specific names to people or things, so you're stuck typing in "cat" even if you're only looking for your beloved pet Rex. But Sabharwal said that could change in the "next quarter or so." An individual using Google Photos would manually be able to apply a name to someone who appears in their photographs and search according to that name moving forward.

Similarly, emotional recognition may be on the way. Sabharwal said Google Photos would ideally be able to sort according to any number of keywords that one might use to describe a photo -- like facial expressions.

"As people start telling us, 'The way I think about this photo is, this is the one where my daughter is sitting at the park smiling,' then that's the way people remember, and that's the way we want to surface it," Sabharwal said.

He said this function could essentially supplement your own memory as you find specific images via Google Photos' search function.

"This is really about the ability for me to have a memory, and you to say, 'tell me about that time,' and me to be able to literally find that photo in a matter of seconds," Sabharwal said.

Google Photos already has a lot of these features built in to some extent. For instance, Sabharwal said the app already pays attention to facial expressions when it creates things like personalized photo collages or albums, called Stories, for users. It identifies and chooses the best photos -- generally those with a clear focus and smiling faces.

If it seems a bit creepy to you, you may not be alone. Writers for Fortune and The Register have already expressed some angst over a clause in Google's terms of service that suggests data you share with the company could be used for advertising purposes. In response to those concerns, Sabharwal told HuffPost that the images a user puts on Google Photos would never be used without an "explicit ask" and "explicit consent" -- beyond just agreeing to the terms when you sign up.

Still, if it makes you nervous, there's an option for you: Don't use the platform. Of course, that means you'll sacrifice the ability for a computer to show you pictures you've taken of "black cat" on demand.

This story has been updated to include more specific information about how Google Photos would use an individual's name.

Before You Go