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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.

5 Comments

  1. Gravatar for Danny Ray

    I've seen this story popping up all over the Web lately! Speaking strictly for myself, and expressing a view that's undoubtedly unpopular, I've decided that George Orwell's world has already arrived! It was just a few decades late. Big Data is indeed Big Brother ... and there's no stopping this train.

  2. Gravatar for Jon Nace

    Danny,

    There is a reality out there that corporate data collection is every bit as involved and every bit as capable as any government entity could be. Vasts amounts of data are being collected, and most of us don't realize the power that we are handing over, or more accurately, exactly what we are handing over.

    But yes, corporate America has every bit the ability to collect vasts amount of data and build a profile of us as any totalitarian government could.

  3. Gravatar for Jkund

    This sounds like a bad case of complaining about something instead of taking the time to understand how the app actually works. Because if you did you'd know that all photos backed up are private unless you share them.

  4. Gravatar for Jon Nace

    Jkund,

    Its an interesting reaction. The concern is not that other consumers will see them, but that Google will keep them in their database where they may be available to hackers, by google itself for its own purposes, for other reasons not previously thought of.

    The consumer believes he short circuits this potential problem by deleting the app. But he does not.

    Its interesting because the underlying concern is actually of someone who is more informed as to how google stores, reads, and processes the information it collects.

    My suggestion is that you consider what happens to the picture, i.e. the actual data, if google has it uploaded, even though you have not shared it with anyone.

    Thanks for the comment,

    Jonathan Nace

  5. Gravatar for CL

    They don't upload your photos even if you erase the app, that's not true at all...are you sure the person didn't have google photos installed on their computer or connected to a device that was connected to google photos or the former google photos? This didn't happen to me at all

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