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Intelligence Uses for Google Goggles

If you haven’t tried Google Goggles yet it’s really amazing, sort of addictive, and once you start snapping you won’t stop until your battery dies, but maybe that’s just me.  GG is a visual search engine so using the Google app you simply snap a picture of something with your smart phone and it searches the Internet for similar images and reports back with findings.  It’s great for times when you’re too lazy to type or when you don’t exactly know how to describe something but you want to look it up, like in the case of flowers and insects.  You can also use it to scan QR Codes and foreign language text and it will interpret those as well.  I don’t know about you but I can’t pass up a QR code without trying it, I find them at least once a day now.  If you’re not familiar check out the post on my blog.

It also occurred to me that GG has an application for analysts and investigators especially those working in organized crime and gangs to assist with symbol identification.  Criminal groups often have a symbol, sign, or logo associated with their organization that can be found on apparel, vehicles, graffiti, and as tattoos.  Some of the established groups are well known and people even outside law enforcement are familiar with their symbols or they are combined with words that describe what they are, which is something else GG picks up and uses to search.  When a new symbol is encountered or suspected to be associated with a criminal group it’s important to try and identify it and the usual method to do this is to post in a publication that gets circulated to law enforcement agencies, passed around at a meeting, or emailed to contacts in the field.  However, a visual search engine like Google Goggles scours the entire Internet for a similar match and expands the audience way beyond the group of local gang analysts.

I’m always looking for an excuse to play with the app so I conducted a few experiments.  Since I prefer to limit my interaction with violent criminal groups, and am pretty sure they wouldn’t take kindly to me running up to them and taking a picture of their neck tat, I chose to use a Google image search on my laptop and some printed material I found in my office to see how it would work.

First I did a Google image search for Hells Angels and snapped a picture of a logo on a vest and–success!  GG understood and linked me to the search results for Hells Angels, very cool.  It also worked great on a number of logos I tried that were printed in gang publications, and some were criminal groups that would not be considered widely known.

Next I tried tattoos and wasn’t as successful but I think it had more to do with trying to take a picture off my laptop screen of a picture of a tattoo, poor definition and resolution.  In person you would probably have much better luck, but again, I’m not offering to do this.  Also not very successful was throwing a hand sign and taking a picture of that and I would blame this fail on me not ever being a gang member and not very good at contorting my fingers into the word ‘blood’.  It did however work on a good picture of a hand sign that I found on a search for ‘crips hand signs’.  I also found a very funny picture of “Geek Gang Signs” that will get a chuckle from other geeks like me.  Sometimes it’s the things you find along the way that are actually better than what you set out for.

Finally, I did a Google search on my laptop for ‘bloods gang graffiti’ and chose the image seen here related to The Folk Nation who are known to associate with Crips.  When I snapped the picture it gave me search results related to Crips, another success!  Here’s the picture if you’d like to give it a try:

Thanks to Ken Stein for permission to use this photo, his website and Flickr account have some incredible shots.

To sum it up, based on my limited and informal experiments Google Goggles works really well on gang signs and symbols, will likely work on hand signs as long as they’re thrown by an experienced gang banger and not just some poser analyst, and might work on tattoos.  I think it would be great to identify new signs and symbols as well as long as it can match up with something on a website somewhere and since there’s no lack of gang related stuff on the web I would expect a pretty high rate of success.