Google Photos: Why iPhone, iPad and Mac Users Should Not Use It

Google Photos now holds 4 trillion photos and videos, which is more than the billion users . It is preferred by millions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, who prefer it to Apple’s alternative, which offers better search, more features, and cheaper storage ( at most until June 1). If you are one of them, Google’s recent data harvesting admissions and continued blocking on an Apple privacy measure should be a warning sign that it is time to change.

Another week of Facebook’s data harvesting has been the focus of headlines. disingenuous app tracking transparency notifications, and Signal posting brutal reminders about the invasive nature data, we must not forget that Google is an even larger data empire that was built from digital marketing.

After a long delay, Google now has privacy labels filed for all major apps in Apple’s App Store. This includes Google Photos. Google Photos is a stark contrast to the Apple equivalent, just as Gmail, Chrome, and Maps.

The sheer amount of data Google Photos may collect is staggering, as it has been for years. Google emphasizes that the “App Privacy Labels” show all data that can be collected. However, the data actually collected depends on which features are used. For example, “we will collect your contact information if you choose to share your photos or videos with others. If you purchase a photo book we will also collect your payment information. We also store your purchase history. This data would not be collected if the user chose to not share photos or make purchases.

This is crucial. This explains why some oddities, such as purchase history or payment information, might be collected by photos apps. Google also pointed out that iCloud is Apple’s storage platform, while Google Photos offers storage in addition to its other features.

However, there is an entirely different approach to privacy. It all comes down to trust. Apple has made it a point to protect user privacy. Apple is a product company, so that makes it credible. It doesn’t make any money if you don’t purchase its products and services.

Google is quite different. Google makes the majority of its profits by selling you access by showing you ads. Google charges its customers more to show them ads if they are more targeted and tailored. This is the basic premise behind everything we are discussing in privacy. Safari blocks trackers, while Chrome tests its flawed FLoC solution for maintaining its targeted ads machine.

Google explains that “if you look at videos about baking on YouTube you might see more ads related to baking while you surf the internet.” Your IP address may be used to locate your exact location so we can show you pizza delivery services near you if you search for “pizza”.

This may seem harmless but companies like Facebook and Google can create profiles on us that are much more detailed than this. An advertiser can use each datapoint to target the exact audience it is looking for. While we all love pizza, the same data analytics can also be used to shape our opinions and adjust our social media channels to fit our needs. This will keep us online longer, sell us more stuff, and shape our views.

This situation is only exacerbated by every app, platform, and service that feeds them. While Google and Facebook will insist that their apps have privacy labels, this does not improve our experience and their services. It also ensures that their $100 billion plus in ad revenue continues to flow.

So, you can make a view. It’s possible to ask yourself if it’s coincidence that Google’s privacy labels are so different from Apple’s. Or if it’s just a result of the way those apps work. Apple earns its revenue through selling services and devices. This is not complicated math.

These privacy labels have a twist. These privacy labels distinguish between data linked to you and data not linked to your. Developers can use the data to improve their services, track its usage patterns, and even look at where its apps might be used. The developer can link each data field to your profile, allowing you to see the details.

The difference between Google’s and Apple’s photo apps is just as stark. Apple could be better, but the only data Google doesn’t link to your identity are the diagnostics for app crashes. This is how it should be thought.

Google Photos is a complex platform. Users might be required to share their information with Google in order to fully enjoy the features. There is a philosophy behind this. Chrome, Google’s most popular browser, shows the same pattern: too much data, all linked with identities, nothing unlinked. It’s difficult to argue Chrome is fundamentally different from Safari (and other browsers) in how it angles the differences between photo apps.

It all boils down to trust. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has assured that “we don’t use information in apps where you primarily store personal content–such as Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Photos–for advertising purposes, period.” But, even if we ignore that advertising/marketing is on Google Photos’ privacy label, advertising is complex, and it doesn’t need to be directly linked to a specific activity to fuel a profile from which hyper-scale data harvesters can derive staggering value.

Google claims that Apple is unique in its ability to pull data from multiple sources. Google encourages users to create Google accounts on Apple devices and elsewhere. This allows them to have a way to store their own unifying data repository for Apple users just like it does on Android OS.

These are the three additional thoughts for Apple users who have Google Photos installed on one of their devices.

First, Apple and Google have different ways of analyzing your photos in order to allow for search, map and categorization. Apple’s Photo App uses machine learning to organize your photos directly on your device. You don’t have to share them with Apple, or anyone else.” This means that analytics are not performed on iCloud’s servers. It is different from other cloud-based photo services like Google.

All those photos and all the metadata are just another raw information that feeds the all-important, all-encompassing algorithm. This analysis drives targeted ads, drives clicks, builds the profile, and allows Google and other companies to analyze you and categorize you with AI to infer your likely behavior and those of others.

Apple warns “Some services process photos in cloud, which allows them access to your photographs. Photos is a way to process images on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The Apple Neural Engine, which uses the A13 and the A14 Bionic chips to process your photos, performs more than 100 billion operations per image to recognize faces and locations without you ever having to leave your device. Apps can request access to your photos. You can only share the images that you choose, and not your entire collection.

This last point is another dig at Google. It leads to the second important consideration for iPhone users with Google Photos. Apple’s iOS 14 released last year and gave users the ability to share selected photos or videos with apps rather than their entire collection. When you only need to edit a few photos and videos, why should an app have access years worth of memories?

Google does not believe this restriction applies to iPhone users. Google Photos will prompt you to install it. It will tell you that Google Photos has access to your photos. This is for viewing, sharing and using its backups. Privacy-wise, the message is clearer. It’s either all or nothing. You’re moving all that data from Apple’s privacy-first enclave and to another place.

Keep in mind the data collection and analysis philosophy. This brings me to the third point. Hidden data is embedded in many images when you use Google Photos. This includes the date and exact location of the photo, the device used, and even the camera settings. Google has admitted that it uses this data, called EXIF data, in its analytics machine.

“We use EXIF data to improve the user’s experience in the app,” a spokesperson for the company said to me. “For example, we might use EXIF information in our Memories feature to suggest a photo album from a recent trip or to surface a trip in Our Memories feature.”

Advertising is the last point. In the past, Facebook has confirmed the same to me. Even if your phone tells Facebook not to share your location, Facebook will still “collect” and process your EXIF location data, regardless of whether you disable location sharing in your Facebook settings.

It is surprisingly easy if you “follow money” to determine the transactional relationships that you are entering into in exchange for the services you receive. If you don’t pay for the product, you are clearly the product. It’s that easy. So, Facebook appears to be suggesting that it might charge users for its apps that block tracking on Apple devices. This is how you’re being placed.

While Google Photos is more feature-rich than Apple’s alternatives to it, you need to understand the tradeoffs. Keep in mind, however, that if you don’t choose apps and platforms that truly put privacy first, it sends a message that big tech doesn’t have to change its ways. They can still harvest your data at will.

This year has been a crucial one for privacy. I’m not certain your data is safer or more protected, but you do have the information to make informed decisions. It’s now up to you.

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