On Thursday, I downloaded Google Photos and started backing up 16 years of family snapshots on Google’s servers. Struck by how much better Google Photo Backup worked than Apple’s iCloud Photos Library did, I wrote a story about it.
On Friday, several readers admonished me. “Mighty selfish of you. How does your family and the rest of your friends feel about being uploaded to Google?” wrote one.
“What are those f….s doing with our photos?” wrote another. “Read the agreement!”
I had read the agreement, but mostly to make sure I wasn’t giving Google permission to use the images themselves — in an ad, article, image search result or anywhere else.
But then I read “The Hypocrisy of the Internet Journalist,” Quinn Norton’s alarming Medium piece about browser cookies — she called their advent “a transcendent moment in data collection” — and I started having second thoughts.
Google collects information about me in two ways: There’s the kind of information I volunteered when I signed up for a Google account (name, e-mail address, telephone number or credit card) and the information they collect when I use their services (my IP address, my search queries, my online purchases, my telephone logs, the YouTubes I watch, the contents of my e-mail and any cookies I generate as I navigate the Web).
The latter get a paragraph of their own:
What does Google do with that information? Here’s what caught my eye: (I quote)
- We use information collected from cookies and other technologies, like pixel tags, to improve your user experience and the overall quality of our services. One of the products we use to do this on our own services is Google Analytics.
- Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection.
- We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services.
That last bit — about asking my consent — is somewhat reassuring. Google seems to be promising that my family pictures won’t show up in Google image searches without my permission. On the other hand, if one of my photos gets posted on a website, blog or social network, it’s fair game. See: How to add an image to Google.
Did I make a big mistake leaving Apple’s walled garden? Should I be worried? Should my family and friends? You tell me.
UPDATE: Reader 66rover99 posted a useful link to the Digital Advertising Council’s consumer choice page: aboutads.info/choices/. It named the 94 companies that were customizing ads for my Chrome browser, and gave me a button to opt out of all of them with a single click.