I love Google Photos. I also worry about it
Google Photos is excellent. It not only stores, it sees. Their machine learning is so good that I can search by what’s in the photo, including people. This is wonderful if I’m looking for a receipt, or photos of kids together. It also worries me.
When I was in University I had long, badly straightened hair and wore either green contact lenses or blue-tinted glasses. This was before Facebook and there are, mercifully, no extant photos. For this I am eternally grateful. It will be impossible but I would like my children to have the same freedom from their past. Especially because they are way too young to consent.
For that reason I never post their faces here or on social media. This is to give them privacy from the outside world, but also from the outside systems and companies, especially the ones I consider nefarious. But I am of course a fool.
My wife and I dutiful feed their images to Google every day. While Facebook is most people’s public face, Google is in many ways our most intimate partner.
Google is where we go to Google that fungus on our foot, or ask what pregnancy tests mean. It’s where we go to see who’s right in a fight. It’s research personal or legal issues, all of which is very private but also not. Google has also — through GMail and Maps — a lock on our private lives.
As two examples, you can track much of your physical movements based on your usage of Google Maps. See for yourself here.
You can also track all of your purchases, based on the receipts they scan from your GMail.
In all of these cases I say ‘you’, but no one is really accessing this data for themselves. It’s really data that Google has on you. And Google Photos is another data point which, for me, has everything.
Does Google do anything evil with this information? I don’t know. For most consumers does abstract privacy trump convenience? No. I’m quite happy with the service. Sitting here I can’t think of any major, probable downsides besides a general feeling of uneasiness.
Privacy is one of those issues that journalists and scholars like to get worked up about but which most people are not that concerned about. I say this based not on what they say, but whether privacy is something they’re willing to pay for, or to change behavior patterns around. And we don’t. I actually pay for more Google Photos storage, to feed higher quality images to the machine.
I was perhaps the last generation to grow up in a pre-digital age. Now it just seems that we are photographed and filed and tracked from birth. My age was plenty horrid in its own ways so I don’t think the new world order is necessarily any more terrible, but I also don’t know that for sure.
All I know is that I have already fed my children to Google. I hope they go down well.