One of Google’s most popular services, Google Photos offers 15GB of free storage space for photos and videos. It was officially announced back in May 2015. Since then, it has become one of Google’s most popular features across the world. Only five months after its release, Google Photos counted over 100 million users. The number has grown to more than 500 million in 2017, and it’s continuing to rise.
While it primarily serves as a storage backup, Google Photos offers a lot more than free storage space. The service uses advanced machine learning technology to analyze each photo and sort it in one of the three main categories which include People, Places, and Things.
The system can further scan the photos to identify features and subjects, as well as recognize geographic landmarks, faces, and themes. This allows users to search for specific images by typing in keywords, locations, or occasions such as birthdays or weddings.
Another exciting feature that has attracted millions of users is the automatically generated albums and quick videos. Google Photos users are often pleasantly surprised when Google puts together a quick memory video for them. However, these features often come with potential security concerns.
Despite all the great sorting options, Google Photos was created as a storage backup solution. It lets users store their photos online and free up the storage space on their devices. Supposedly, the service helps users keep their photos “safe” by storing them in a place where they cannot be lost. However, the real concern is how safe the photos are there.
The Terms of Service and Possible Privacy Threats
Millions of people who use Google Photos worldwide aren’t aware of the potential privacy threats behind this service. According to the most recent Google Photos Terms of Service, Google has a license to use your content. Unfortunately, rarely anyone bothers to read the Terms of Service these days.
Google’s worldwide license refers to more than using people’s photos. They have the right to store, reproduce, modify, and even publish any content that is sent or received through their services. This means that Google can translate any received content into different languages and reproduce it however they like.
Further, in the Terms of Service, it is stated that Google uses people’s content to promote and improve their services. They also use the content from Google Photos to develop new services. But what does this mean for an average user?
Most simply put, Google can use anyone’s photos for advertising, as they have the full right to do so. To make matters even worse, Google’s license cannot be reversed. It continues to last even if the user no longer owns a Google Photos account. In other words, all photo’s uploaded to the service don’t belong to Google, but they still have the right to use them.
How to Protect Your Content
While the Google Photos service is free, it comes with a fee regarding privacy. However, there are several steps one can take to enhance the security of their content online. First, the most obvious step would be deleting all photos from Google’s storage service. Here is a great and simple tutorial explaining how to do just that.
However, as we already mentioned, Google’s license remains valid even after the photos have been deleted. The truth is, all content uploaded to the service is stored in Google’s large database. It can hardly be deleted for good.
Thus, deleting photos from the account won’t prevent Google from using them. However, if the user stops uploading new photos, they will be exposed to less risk. The good news is, even though Google can use people’s photos, no one else can. The corporation is known for taking severe security measures across their services. Thus, its users don’t have to worry about hackers and third parties accessing their content.
If deleting the Google Photos account is not an option, one should consider using Google’s 2-step verification. This verification system might seem inconvenient, but it does provide extra security. Furthermore, each user should be cautious about what kind of photos they upload to Google. Naturally, they shouldn’t upload any content that they don’t want to be leaked online. To prevent unwanted images ending up on Google, one should turn off the automatic sync feature.
Last but not least, Google offers custom privacy settings for each Google Photos user. Tweaking these settings can further protect the content uploaded to the account. Thus, each user can control how much data Google collects and which info appears on their profile.
The best way to prevent Google from using private content is not to upload it to their services at all. However, if giving up the Google Photos account is not an option, the user should at least be more cautious when it comes to uploading specific images.
Once a photo is uploaded to the service, Google will have a license to use it even after the photo has been removed. Therefore, the only secure way to avoid this privacy threat is to restrain from uploading images at all.
Other options include adjusting the privacy settings and turning off the auto sync features. However, none of these details will reverse Google’s license to use any uploaded content.