I uploaded some pics to Google Photos from a long weekend backpacking trip. These pics were taken on a camera with no GPS, and no wireless connection to my Android phone. I was in an area with no cell towers, so I put phone in airplane mode to save battery over those 3 days. I did record the GPS tracks I made with the phone with a 3rd party hiking app (big clue). Normally that GPS would not have been running while in airplane mode.
After upload, Google Photos figured out where all the pics were taken, and automatically displays the exact location of each pic in to within something like 30 feet. I had not seen it do that before. I knew Google was smart enough to figure out the location of pics with landmarks in them, and of those with signs in them, but how did it know precisely where a pic of a stick on the ground out in a remote forest was taken, especially when that pic was not taken on my Android phone?
It took me a while to research and figure out what was going on, because I couldn’t explicitly find anyone describing what happened to me. I initially couldn’t figure out how Google could even know. But what I think happens is:
- Google keeps all GPS data in Google account, even that of 3rd party GPS apps in Android. When I reconnected to the Internet days later, Google sucked that data off the phone.
- Upload enough photos to a single album that it passes some test of predictability. One photo won’t trigger it I think, from my testing. I did include a single cell phone pic from the default Android camera app taken while the other pics were being taken… And Google must have then assumed that it must have therefore been ME that took all the other pics on the separate camera?
- Google will look at the time stamps on the photos, combine that with the GPS account data, and then figure out exactly where you were, and show that as an “estimated location” in Google Photos. Which on mine, was to within like 30 feet of where each photo was taken.
That just blows my mind. I guess I’ll make sure to strip all time stamp exif data from any photos I upload any more.