Seek app - Add ability to OPT IN to iNaturalist sync

Hi iNat team! I recently introduced my daughter to the iNat Seek app and she’s been loving it. She’s always had an interest in nature, and the gamification of making observations and earning badges is really appealing to an 8-year-old. She told me tonight that she loves the new app I got her. So bravo for that!

However, I would love to see the app have the ability to sync up with an iNaturalist account. I created one for her to store her observations in and logged into it with Seek, only to discover that you can’t upload past observations, and you have to manually choose to send each observation over to iNat, there’s no option to have it automatically send them as you save them. Plus there’s no way to have data go the other way (iNat to Seek) to back up or be able to use multiple devices the way you can with the main iNaturalist app.

I have read previous threads in the forums asking for a sync function, and the replies that as an app targeted at minors the goal is privacy, but I have to agree with others that having the data “trapped” on the single device somewhat tarnishes the appeal to me. I mean, kids are careless, and they’re toting their devices around outside. What if it gets dropped in a pond, crunched under a bike tire, lost and forgotten in the weeds when they sat down to watch a beetle? That’s it, all their hard work just gone? I can imagine some pretty disappointed kids having lost all their badges and identifications. Plus nearly everybody upgrades their devices at some point, and having to rely on third-party backups like iCloud kinda defeats the whole no-sync privacy argument, doesn’t it?

So I’d like to propose the addition of a sync to iNaturalist option that can be toggled to OPT IN from within the settings section. This means users that want to retain their privacy can, and users that want to share their data to iNat also can. If you’re concerned about minors toggling it without parental permission, add a parental permission screen such as many apps for minors have (however, see two paragraphs down re: iNat accounts).

You could give users three options: no sync, manual sync, and auto sync. A similar feature exists in the iNaturalist app - you can choose to turn off automatic uploads and save observations locally until you manually choose to upload them. This is basically the manual sync and auto sync options - just add a third one, no sync, which saves the observation without prompting the user to upload, and make that the default.

Also, obviously the sync option only works if the user has an iNaturalist account. Seek users without an iNat account wouldn’t be able to upload anything, so there’s no privacy issue in that case. Minors under age 13 need a parent’s permission to create an iNat account anyway, so if they’re doing that then presumably they also have their parents’ permission to turn the sync on in Seek.

You don’t have to build in the ability to back up badges and such, either. I presume the badge system works based on quantity of various observation records - or at least, what I’ve seen of the system so far. So if Seek can download data from an iNat account, then when a user moves to a new device and imports their iNat list the app can recalculate all the badges they would have have earned.

On a slightly related sync note, but unrelated to data backup, I would LOVE to be able to have Seek tap in to iNat’s amazing AI identification tool. I love iNat and am constantly amazed at how it can pick the right ID for even really crummy photos. But I was pretty disappointed at how much the Seek identification tool struggles with what seemed to me really obvious images, and how often it gets the wrong ID. If this is again a privacy issue, then that would also be solved with an opt-in settings feature. I think the appeal to kids would be boosted with a stronger AI ID tool, since so often the ID gets stuck at order or family level (even when it’s me holding the camera steady with a good view that I KNOW the iNat app would have no trouble with), and the learning component would also be improved because the kids wouldn’t be learning the wrong names and information for the things they’re seeing. Eg. today Seek told my daughter the trout lilies in our forest were White Trout Lilies, which don’t even occur around here (ours are Yellow).

Anyway, I hope you’ll consider some sort of opt-in link to iNaturalist, I believe it would boost both the appeal and the usability of what’s already a great app. :) Thanks!

Glad your daughter is enjoying Seek!

I approved this request, but I want to be up front and say that it’s very unlikely we would ever implement it. Not just for privacy reasons, but because it further blurs the lines between Seek and iNat, which are already a quite blurry and confusing. In the past I’ve not approved requests like this, but I wanted to have a public record of any decision made about this kind of functionality, either way.

iCloud isn’t really third party, it’s owned by Apple, which makes iOS devices, and it’s linked to the Apple acocunt used for your device.


I agree with tiwane, the line between iNat and Seek are blurred enough. That would almost be a merge. It would be nice if the report error to iNat for correction to be a useful function. That might help the CV?
I agree that Seeks CV needs improvement. I’m confident it will get there.
But let’s leave Seek to the younger or less involved sets to enjoy.


That’s fair. I do personally think they fill two very different niches, even if they had some overlap - I will never use Seek, even if it ended up linked into iNat, just because of my purpose and goals in using iNat. Currently, my daughter is just trying to explore and discover, and the Seek app is much better suited to that. But I understand why you feel this, and I can accept that as an argument more readily than the privacy one (which can easily be overcome/addressed).

I would really love to see the identification AI tool improved in Seek, though, if there’s any way to do that without linking to iNat itself. Just the other day it confidently told my daughter a stump was a beaver. She was quite indignant about falsely getting a badge for it, which I found amusing but she found less so. :laughing:

I suppose, but my kids’ devices use that Apple ID too and I don’t particularly want all their clutter in my iCloud. Not sure if it’s possible to just back up individual apps? I haven’t explored it much. Still seems like there ought to be an easier way, but I understand that saving user data to the iNat servers would consume a lot of resources, privacy aside.

Anyway, I do appreciate you taking the time to read, approve and answer! Even if the answer is no, just having these questions and the staff’s answers and reasons why on public record is useful to have out there.


I agree it’s not easy. My personal preference would be to actually remove the ability to log in to iNat in Seek, and keep it just a privacy and game-oriented app - explaining its relationship to iNat right now is really confusing and not easy. The posting to iNat part also creates more potential for bugs, like this one.

But, a decent number of observations have been made via Seek, so it’s not a trivial decision.

We’re working on it. Having an on-device model means that the model has to be compressed and that’s not easy. I can’t say much more now, unfortunately.

I think there’s a good reason for that: many observations of beavers on iNat contain photos of beaver chews, not of the actual organism. So the model has been trained on lots of those photos. Some sort of photo-level annotation functionality would be needed to sort those, then you’d have to figure out terms to use for labeling them and how to train the model on the a mix of photo types (organism, evidence of feeding, nest, etc).

Not being able to backup Seek is definitely an issue, it’s a bummer when people lose their observations. I’d like to see some form of it.

Thanks for the kind words and thoughtful response!