Google Image Search Will Display a Photo’s History

The new “About this image” feature will assist you in determining the reliability of a photo search result, but it’s not a foolproof defense against misinformation.

Google Image Search Will Display a Photo's History
Google Image Search Will Display a Photo’s History

The proliferation of online misinformation is a significant issue, and generative AI is exacerbating the production of both inauthentic and repurposed media. Even before the generative AI era, an image found through a simple Google search could have been misused or associated with an unreliable website.

Google Image Search Will Display a Photo’s History

Google thinks it has a solution to address this issue. In Google image search results, users will now find an information box called “About this image.” It is being introduced today in the US (initially in English only). This follows the introduction of “About this result” in 2021, which gives extra details about the source of a Google search result, and “About this author” in early 2023, which provides context about the author of a page.

The new image tool aims to provide context in three specific areas: when Google first indexed the image (or similar ones), the website where it may have initially been published, and other online appearances, including on social media. Google also intends to indicate whether a photo has been fact-checked.

Nidhi Hebbar, Google’s product management lead for information literacy, states, “We aim to invest in information literacy practices that assist people in evaluating the reliability of a particular image, rather than merely conducting online image searches.”

Google’s Initiatives to Enhance Image Search Transparency and Authenticity

Google initially introduced “About this image” during its developers’ conference in May. The company’s information literacy team was in the process of creating tools to assist internet users in recognizing misinformation and gaining a deeper understanding of the sources of images found in Google Search. While Google hasn’t explicitly stated that this feature is a direct response to the proliferation of AI-generated imagery on the internet, it’s certainly a contributing factor. The company’s experimental Search Generative Experience will prominently feature “About this image.SGE will watermark all generated images, much like how Microsoft’s Bing AI-generated images currently have an invisible digital watermark.

Before the rollout, Hebbar demonstrated to WIRED how “About this image” functions. She displayed Google images of the Krzywy Domek—the Crooked House—in Sopot, Poland. She proceeded to select one of the top image results from Wikipedia and clicked on a three-dot menu icon that provided “About this image” as a choice. The tool revealed that there is a version of this image that is at least 10 years old. Besides Wikipedia, two of the top website results for the image included Atlas Obscura and the Huffington Post, indicating some additional sources.Although the Krzywy Domek’s architecture is exceptionally strange, making it appear unreal, Google’s “About this image” strongly suggests its authenticity.

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