But I’m not that excited about using it.
Don’t get me wrong — Google Photos solves a huge problem that I, and I know many others, have: organising and searching your ever-growing collection of digital photos and videos.
The service, which is available on the web and on Android and Apple devices, stores all of your photos and videos. It analyses the people and things in them, and automatically categorizes them based on the contents of the image or video. This makes it really easy to search thousands of photos for things like “dog,” “aeroplane,” “mountains,” “bikes,” and “beach,” for example, or by a location like “Hawaii” or “Seattle.” It even recognises selfies if you search for them.
One of the coolest — or creepiest, depending on your perspective — features is how it uses facial recognition technology, so you can search for a specific person just by clicking or tapping a photo of his or her face.
As The Verge’s Casey Newton wrote, Google Photos makes your collection of photos and videos “as searchable as Gmail.”
Being able to backup all of my photos safely — and for free! — and search through them as easily as I search for an email is nothing short of miraculous.
At the same time, though, there is something deeply unsettling about giving the huge data collection company unfettered access to nearly every photo I’ve ever taken.
Google is an advertising company, after all. More than 90% of the $US66 billion Google made in revenue last year came from advertising.
But the saddest part about this whole thing is that I’m going to do it anyway. Because Google Photos is worth it to me.
It’s just another example of me trading my own privacy for convenience, as I’ve down online countless times since I started using the internet in the 90s. It’s the same thing I did when I signed up for Gmail a decade ago, when I gave Google permission to read my email in exchange for a lot of free storage. It’s the same thing I do with the personal finance service Mint, which sees every transaction I make. It’s the same thing I do every day when I look at Facebook.
But we’re increasingly willing to give up our own privacy, which is very valuable to companies that make money from advertising, for services that will make our lives easier.
Gmail generated a huge outcry from privacy advocates and some consumers when it was announced in 2004, but now 900 million people around the world use it.
Yet as I write, I’m backing up my photo library to Google… Only 3,249 images to go…
A Google spokesperson told me that when it comes to this service specifically, Google has “no monetisation plans at this time.”
Indeed, I don’t expect to see ads pop up in my photo feed, at least not yet. And I don’t think that Google is going to use my own photos to advertise anything.
But that doesn’t mean that Google won’t use the information gleaned from my photos — who’s in them, who’s not in them, what I’m wearing, what type of shoes I have, and more — to better target advertising to me.
When I asked specifically about whether or not Google would use this type of data, a company spokesperson was evasive, only saying that it wouldn’t use photos or videos uploaded to the service “commercially for any promotional purposes, unless we ask for the user’s explicit permission.”
That just means Google will ask you before it uses a picture you took at the beach to advertise a vacation.
But nearly everything that Google does it does with the goal of getting to know its users better, so it can build a better profile of them to better target advertising to them.
And Google can learn a lot from your photos. If Google can recognise my brothers’ faces, in photos taken years apart, Google can probably identify the brand of shoes or clothes I’m wearing.
I imagine that Google could tell when my relationships have changed, based on different people in the photos over different periods of time. Google will probably know when my cat eventually dies, because I’ll have stopped snapping so many photos of her. (She’s really cute!)
And the company can probably tell when someone is upset or happy, based on facial expressions.
All of this information, together with the contents of your email, what you’re searching for on Google maps, and what you’re searching for online, can create a very valuable profile of you.
It may sound creepy or off putting to some, but like it’s done before, Google is betting that millions of people are just like me, willing to give just a little bit more — or, in this case, a lot more — of your life to the company in exchange for a really great free service.
And Google is right. Millions of us will do it.
Only 1,892 photos to go…