The Assistant News Editor at Upstart Business Journal recently noticed something unexpected about the way the Google Photos App worked on his smart phone. The News Editor had previously decided that he didn’t want Google Photos auto-uploading pictures he took on his phone to the web, notably because he intended to take plenty of pictures of his small daughter.
Five weeks later, on a whim, I figured I’d see if Google Photos had made any tweaks and re-downloaded the app. Instead of my pair of test photos, I saw hundreds of images. They weren’t synced from my phone in that moment, because I always delete photos from my device once they’ve been uploaded. My phone must have been uploading pictures to Google Photos even though I didn’t even have Google Photos on my phone.
In a semi-panic, I rushed to my laptop to see if they were appearing on the web site, and upon seeing they were, I mass-deleted all the photos. I turned off the app’s sync functions. I hate-tweeted what had just happened. And I stewed.
Even though he decided to delete the app from the phone, the phone still uploaded the pictures his camera took to photos.google.com. He decided to try again, and tested his theory that even though the app had been deleted, the auto-upload was still sending pictures to the web online. This time he documented with video here.
Is this deceptive conduct by Google? Perhaps, but Google issued a statement saying that they would work “to make the messaging clearer.” My suggestion: stop auto-uploading photos to your website when a consumer deletes the application. Bigger concerns arise when one considers the context of Google auto-uploading photos even of consumers who don’t use their apps. For example, Google’s facial recognition software is now being used on those with or without Google Photos.
This is yet another dangerous example of what Big Data is capable of. Consumers need to know what data is being gathered and what its being used for. And they need to be given a fair chance to opt out. Deleting the application would seem to be that fair chance.