During the past week at Google I/O 2015, Google announced a new service that it was detaching from its mostly-forgotten service, Google+. That service is called Google Photos, and it is simultaneously the most amazing and terrifying tool I’ve used in the digital age.
What Google has done seems very generous on the surface: they are allowing all users with a Google account to upload an unlimited amount of photos to its Google Photos service. What does it cost? Not a penny. That’s right: it’s absolutely free, monetarily speaking. If the images are in excess of 16 MP, it will compress them a bit, but the quality is still more than enough for printing almost any size smaller than a poster, and you have the peace of mind that they are all backed up on the cloud.
(I should mention that this includes videos up to 1080p in quality)
You can have it set to automatically upload your images from your phone, whether on Android or iOS, creating an automatic backup of all your pictures. That’s right...no more iCloud data limit hassles. You can obviously upload all of your pictures from your computers or hard drives as well.
I’ve been in the process of backing up every photo from every device and every hard drive that I own. This will include tens of thousands of photos. I think it’s awesome. It’s convenient. It even includes a feature called “Assistant” which will suggest automatic collages and animated GIFs of photos that seem to fit one another. It will group collections together based on date or geographic metadata within your photos.
Here’s an example of a GIF that it created all by its lovely self:
It’s from a Sunday evening where Charidy accidentally spilled a plate of rice, beans, and chicken fajitas all over Shannon. I didn’t have to gather these photos; Google Photos did it all by itself, and then asked me if I wanted to save the GIF to my library. Of course I do!
Raylan was watching a video one night, saw me taking his picture, then yelled, “Tomaaaaaa!” (his way of saying, “Leave me alone.”) Y’all...this is pretty nifty.
So why is Google Photos also creepy?
FIRST, IT'S FREE FOR A REASON.
Google is in the business of selling catered ads. They don’t want advertisements of cookware or bird-watching books popping up on my Google search results. They want ads that they think I’ll find relevant to my lifestyle, such as photography equipment and Arsenal gear.
So even though they’re anonymizing and encrypting the data, they will be scanning these photos for the things that show up most often in my life, and catering my ads to those things.
Is it creepy? Yes. Do I care? Not particularly.
However, I know that a lot of people are more finicky about their personal data than I am. Don’t worry: Google won’t be using these images on the web or uploading anything to the public without your permission, so your dancing-the-Macarena selfie photos are still safe where no one can see them and question your mental stability.
ONE OTHER CREEPY THING: THEIR FACIAL RECOGNITION
Google automatically recognizes faces, and creates collections of those individuals. It doesn’t ask me, “Hey, is this Shari Dean?” It just sees Shari, scans thousands of photos, and gathers them together. Not impressed? Hold on a second.
We’ve seen facial recognition before. That’s not a big deal. Facebook does it. Apple’s iPhoto does it. Nearly every photo service does it, BUT they don’t do it like Google Photos.
As I’ve gone through my collection, Google Photos has somehow scanned and recognized photos of Raylan, not only from the present day, but it goes back in the past and sees that he has grown and changed...and it’s keeping up with those changes!
It’s not perfect, but it’s scarily close, and I’m sure they’re going to improve this in the future.
Those are just a few quick thoughts I wanted to jot down on the service. And whether you find this something that you want to jump aboard immediately, or if you’re so creeped out by it that you want to delete your Gmail account, I feel pretty good scrolling all the way down to May 24, 2010, and knowing that this photo won’t go missing anytime soon: