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Google Goggles Visual Search: The World Around You, Explained (And Maybe Invaded)

Visual Information: Goggles at work, in a screenshot from Google's mobile Web site. Google hide caption

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Google

Visual Information: Goggles at work, in a screenshot from Google's mobile Web site.

Google

If you're out walking around and see something new and interesting — but kind of hard to figure out — do you take a moment to phrase a Boolean-friendly query to unleash on passersby?

Of course you don't. You just point and say, "What's that?"

The trouble is, sometimes nobody knows. Well, now you can ask Google.

The company's new Google Goggles service lets you send it a pic from your cameraphone. The photo is then analyzed and turned into a search query, and you're given links that might explain that new/weird thing you're staring at. Since this is Google we're talking about, all that probably takes about a half-second to happen.

Here's the freaky part: Goggles was designed to be so smart, and so sensitive, that it could work on people — like, a photo of you might bring back a link to your blog, or your Wikipedia entry, if you should be so fortunate.

If that sounds like a great tool for stalkers and privacy invaders in general, Google agrees — or at least it does now. At the Le Web conference, company reps said this week that they need to get a better handle on "the implications of the facial recognition tool."

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But even if Google won't provide those results to the public, there are likely to be some doubts about whether it compiles them for its own (need I say mysterious?) purposes. The other thing conspiracists should look out for: The service will remember your image searches for the past 6 months.

My main problem with it — other than my total failure to come up with a funny riff on Google Goggles vs. Beer Goggles — is that right now, the service is only available for Android phones.

The company says more versions are on the way. And oh boy, you can just imagine all the fun all those iPhoners are going to have when they can satisfy their curiosity... which, as you may know, is insatiable.

Goggles also has a photo-sharing component, letting you send images to Facebook and Picasa. It'll be interesting to see if they let you send stuff to Flickr — I won't hold my breath on that one.