Turning inner space into outer space

May 30, 2015

How much are you willing to pay for Google's new photo service?

A new service called Google Photos is pretty much everything you could ask for — free unlimited storage of your photos and videos, accessible from any device. Everything is automatically backed up and tagged so you can easily find it with a search. There’s even built-in editing for touch-ups.

So what’s not to like?

Google Photos was only released a few days ago, but already plenty of people are jumping on the bandwagon. Other than a few naysayers, the App Store is full of four- and five-star reviews.

Some people are already talking about dumping the Photos app that comes with their iPhone and replacing it with Google’s app. At Fortune magazine, Philip Elmer-DeWitt says “Apple should hate itself today.”

It’s easy to forget that Google’s entire existence is based on collecting data, analyzing it, and selling the results. Making it easy, even desirable, for people to give them billions of photos from all over the world fits right in with the company’s business model. Rene Ritchie puts it this way:

Google is pushing out fantastic new features at a breakneck pace, but all of them are ones I need to go into with eyes wide open.

Google wants to organize the world’s data. To do that, it needs the data. It needs us to provide it, and it needs us to want to provide it. Everything Google does is based on that single truth.

Over at The Loop, Dave Mark advises us to read the licence agreement carefully:

The way I read it (and I’m no lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt), at the very least, Google has the right to use your photos in its advertising.

Well, you might say, Google has been using our stuff for years and really what harm is there in it? Every search we make with Google, every email we send with Gmail, is catalogued in massive banks of servers somewhere — they are just tiny drops in an ocean of data.

Even so, many people resent that Google is taking liberties with the things they create. Some, for example, insist on using Duck Duck Go for search, because it’s totally anonymous. I’ve tried it a few times but always come back to Google for the simple fact that it gives better results.

Plenty of good alternatives make it easy to do without Gmail, but time and again I find Google presenting simple solutions to things I want to accomplish. For example, I was looking at creating an online guided tour, and — lo and behold — there is such a thing as Google Tour Builder that does just that.

Google also makes it easy to create calendars and charts and embed them on websites. The list goes on and on. In the end, the loss of privacy may be a small price to pay for such a long list of features.

So what’s the bottom line with Google Photos?

One of the big promises of the service is that your photos are automatically organized and searchable. The price you pay is that Google is busy organizing and searching every photo and video not just for you, but also for its own purposes.

It’s something to think about.