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I took a photo in the UTC +2 time zone with my Samsung. I then uploaded it to Google+ Photos.

Then Google Photos automatically created a "story" for me, which is a compilation of various photos (that it deemed best) into a fancy slideshow. In the slideshow, it successfully marked various places in Italy where I visited.

Looking at the EXIF data of the photo (or the "Photo Details" in Google+ Photos), it does not contain any GPS data (the Location tag option was turned off on the phone).

So how does Google+ Photos know where the photos were taken?

Here is one of the photos for reference.

migrated from superuser.com Apr 21 '15 at 21:18

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  • If GPS is running on your phone or tablet and enabled in google location services, it'll automatically use the GPS to learn the world coordinates for the location at the time of the picture. – Tim Apr 21 '15 at 18:18
  • @Tim Yes, but if I look at the photos on Google Plus, there is a sidebar called Photo Details. It doesn't have any geographical information. If it did, I'd see it there, right? – AngryHacker Apr 21 '15 at 18:30
  • That's a little different. Displaying the location in that sidebar is not necessarily coming from the same code that reads from google's world map servers. I'm not sure what populates that piece of it. I'll check my google+ photos and see what the settings are. I "think" photo details are manually entered by the user. Similiar to meta data in MP3 file. – Tim Apr 21 '15 at 18:36
  • Upon checking a photo in my google+, the side bar has a link to manually type in the location the picture was taken. – Tim Apr 21 '15 at 18:41
  • @Tim You are right...for photos that do not have that information. I just uploaded a photo from my iPhone (which has GPS tagging turned on) and the details with geographic information promptly showed up in the sidebar. – AngryHacker Apr 21 '15 at 19:56
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I know this is a year old but I suspect more people are interested. Here's a paper release by Google just a month before the question was asked: PlaNet - Photo Geolocation with Convolutional Neural Networks. Some of the comments in the other answers suggested it: Google has trained a neural network to determine location of an image. I myself took some polaroid photos (using an SX-70, no GPS there) in the Outer Banks one day, scanned them a week later in Virginia, and then uploaded them to Google two years after that (in CA). Google still figured out they were from North Carolina. The false positives point to neural network classification as well: I had a picture of a helicopter from one military base and Google Photos told me it was from a base I had never been to.

Is that scary? I don't know, I don't mind Google knowing everything about me and I love the apparent magic. What's more scary to me is that if Google can do it, so can any other organization with enough data.

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I've recently uploaded the photos from a trip to Google+. They were taken with a dedicated camera (not smartphone) without GPS or Wi-Fi, so the photos didn't have any GPS tag on them. I did not point out the location inside G+. The album was named like the country in which the photos were taken and not the specific places.

And yet, the automatically generated "story" showed the lake where my photos were taken and after that, the location of a town where we had coffee. No photos contain geographic or other type of landmarks and identifiable text. The only explanation is that Google tracks the location of my Android phone and is able to link it to the photos by comparing time and date. Very convenient and very disturbing.

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    Or has compared your photos agains other photos taken in the same places by other people and the AI was able to pinpoint the location(s). – Alex Jun 3 '15 at 8:27
  • I've uploaded some photos taken about 10 years ago to Google plus and it managed to figure out the location. I didn't own a location tracking smartphone at the time. Maybe it's a combination of location tracking on your smartphone and some clever image recognition. – Jonny White Jul 19 '15 at 22:10
  • I am pretty sure it's only AI doing photo analysis against millions of other pictures. It is basically the same kind of analysis that powers the search feature of Google Photos, and allows them to do things like showing you a category named "Sculptures" without you really saying anything about the picture being a sculpture. – gnz Aug 13 '15 at 23:57

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