Google Images: The Recent Downgrade in Quality

Some of you may be aware of the recent changes to Google Images, but in case you’re not, I want to talk about it a bit.

Broken Google

I spend a lot of time on the internet, more than I’m willing to admit. So when things change to the websites I most frequently use, I tend to notice. I’m usually happy when changes are positive, regardless of whether they are different. But in the case of Google Images, it has taken several steps back.

So, let’s play a little game of spot-the-difference. Here’s what a Google Images search result page looked like before the changes.

Google Images Before Changes

And here’s what it looks like after the changes.

Google Images After Changes

There are two features that Google has removed from their Images search results page: The “Search By Image” and the “View Image” function. Before I go into why they removed it, I want to talk a little bit about how I used these functions.

I normally used the “View Image” function to skip visiting the main page of a site. Usually, an image would be fairly easy to locate on a page. But a growing trend on websites nowadays is to bury the image really deep into the page. The consequence of this is you end up spending more time on the page. This means they get more ad revenue in the process. Of course, I use Ad-block on almost all websites, but it is still a time waster. Sites like Pinterest are particularly guilty of this, even forcing you to register on their website in order to view images. No thanks.

The “Search By Image” function was particularly useful for me. I used it to find higher-resolution copies of an image. Now, I will admit that I was saving these images to my hard-drive. But there is nothing illegal about it. Which brings up the question: “What does legality have to do with any of this?”

The cause of this change is one company: Getty Images. Apparently, they filed a lawsuit against Google, telling them to remove these features because:

  1. The “View Image” function affected traffic to websites, reducing ad revenue
  2. The “Search By Image” function helped in piracy

I want to address each of these points individually. First, the reason for reduced ad revenue is because of corporate scumbag tactics employed by these companies. If images were easy to find on a page, no one would have bothered to use the view image. In fact, I’ll personally say that sometimes, I like viewing an image in context of the page. But lately, viewing an entire page has been a pain, even with an ad blocker running. In essence you brought this upon yourselves. If you weren’t so greedy, people would not have resorted to such features on Google.

Additionally, the general fix to this was to do a redirect from the image file directly to the page it was on. Any semi-competent webdeveloper can do this. And many websites did. If you clicked “View Image” from a Google Images search result page, it would redirect you to the page the image was on. Yes, it was frustrating, but nevertheless, it was their website and I took no issue with it.

Next, the piracy argument. Oh, aren’t they adorable. Here’s a fact of life: anything put on the internet can be pirated. If you put an image up, it can be pirated. It doesn’t matter how much protection, watermarking, DRM you put on it. The “Search By Image”, I do concede, did make it easier. But removing the function doesn’t fix the problem. Anyone with a little technological know-how can easily find alternatives.

So, what Getty Images has done, out of their own corporate greed, is made life inconvenient for people, without really getting anything out of it. If someone wants to steal an image off of them, they will. I’ve said it many times on my blog before. I don’t really care what people do. But when people do things to make my life more inconvenient, I get mad.

In fact, I downloaded an image off Getty and removed their watermark, just to see if I could do it. Guess what? I could. Unfortunately, I cannot post the image here because that would be illegal. Additionally, I have no use for this image, so it just gets deleted. But that’s just it. If someone is so motivated to steal an image you have put online, they’re going to do it. Making them mad because you’ve removed a useful feature that they used with no illegal intent is just bad PR and will only force people to do things out of spite.

I do photography as a hobby, and I have my work posted on my website on this page. If you open it up and take a look at the watermarks, anyone could steal those images and remove the watermarks. Not sure why someone would want to steal my work, because it’s not very good, but still. The intent is the same. I’m well aware that watermarks can be removed. Some are just harder to remove than others. I personally find that watermarks distract from the photography itself. While I do understand that Getty is running a business, I believe treating every potential viewer like a thief is not the way to go.

And here’s the funny thing. I have heard about Getty Images before, but never really seen their work. From what I could see, their photography isn’t even that good. The images are too busy and lack the focus on the subject matter. So what you essentially have is a site, run by a greedy management, designed by an incompetent web developer, flooded with amateur photography, trying to protect their unwanted content, making life difficult for people. Well done Getty Images, you must be so proud.

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