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I uploaded some photos to Google photos that were taken by a very old digital camera that does not have GPS or location capability. Yet Google photos was able to determine correct city in which the photo was taken. In some cases it also determined the approximate place where it was taken. How does it do that?

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    Did you have an Android phone with you at the same time as you took the photos on the old camera? – Philip Kendall May 4 at 22:42
  • I wasn't carrying any smart phone with me when I took those photographs. I did occasionally login to my Google account on a smart phone when I was there. The photos however were uploaded a few weeks afterwards and from a desktop. – Salman A May 5 at 8:21
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question is about the internal workings of Google's software and only incidentally related to photography. – Hueco May 6 at 16:00
  • I might add that Google photos also seems to extract any text from photos... signposts, billboards, receipts, even hand writing. As of now you can search for text inside Google drive. – Salman A Jun 22 at 14:17
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They can use machine learning to guess location from photo

Guessing the location of a randomly chosen Street View image is hard, even for well-traveled humans. But Google’s latest artificial-intelligence machine manages it with relative ease. [...] “PlaNet is able to localize 3.6 percent of the images at street-level accuracy and 10.1 percent at city-level accuracy,” say Weyand and co. What’s more, the machine determines the country of origin in a further 28.4 percent of the photos and the continent in 48.0 percent of them.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600889/google-unveils-neural-network-with-superhuman-ability-to-determine-the-location-of-almost/

Confirmed by uploading the sphinx picture (from wikipedia) with all EXIF information removed. After a while, the location was automatically changed to "Giza Necropolis". Obviously this information can't come from GPS, phone spying or timestamp matching and could only be derived from the photograph itself.

So, the good news is, google knowing the location of your photos does not necessarily mean you are being tracked without your permission. Your location can be seen because you are showing the location in your photos!

sphinx of giza automatically recognized by google photos

  • This is consistent with my observations... photos with some kind of visible landmark were tagged, photos from the same area but no visible landmark were not tagged. – Salman A May 6 at 19:32
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If you use any Google service on any device, they pretty much know where you are regardless of what camera you use to take photos. AI analysis can identify landmarks and building interiors. Facial recognition identifies people in your photos and you in other people's photos. They know who you associate with and where. While Facebook guesses your religion and political party, Google knows what they are.

  • Interestingly, since I starting looking at my Google timeline, I am surprised by how often it is wrong. It shows drives of only 5-10 miles that only took 15-20 minutes taking several hours. Sometimes it will show me going back and forth from one place to another that are 20-60 miles apart several times when I was only in each place once for a few hours before going to the other for a few hours. – Michael C May 5 at 16:23
  • That is done intentionally to hide how much they really know. – xiota May 8 at 21:02
  • That kind of flies in the face of determining locations I frequent at specific times so that they can feed me specific ads for businesses that are active at the times I am near them. – Michael C May 9 at 16:07
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I wasn't carrying any smartphone with me when I took those photographs. I did occasionally login to my Google account on a smartphone when I was there. The photos however were uploaded a few weeks afterwards and from a desktop.

It doesn't matter when you upload them or from where you uploaded them. Unless the images have had their EXIF info stripped before you uploaded them, Google is smart enough to read that information from the photos and determine when they were taken.

Next it compares the time stamp in the images to your known locations based on your google logins. It finds your logins that were closest, timewise, to when the photos were taken. Now it knows approximately where you were when the photos were taken. At the very least it can narrow down where you might have been within a certain range of travel. From there it is able to begin searching its vast database to find similar scenes in the same areas.

  • I am currently investigating this. Google photos did not tag some photos in-between (some having same datetime as the tagged photos before and after) and one common thing among most untagged photos was that they were taken indoors. – Salman A May 5 at 16:31
  • this should be easy to to verify - just upload a bunch of photos taken by someone living in a different place – szulat May 6 at 20:04

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