Private sign above a mailbox

Are Your Images Safe With Google?

In this post I talked about the importance of saving your images to the cloud as at least one form of backing up and preserving. The recent wildfire tragedy in California really hammers home the importance of keeping your vital documents and memories off site. Sometimes you just won’t have the time. It’s a horrible way to think. No one wants to plan for the worst case. But it can happen. Some people, myself included on occasion, can be very suspicious of these big companies holding on to their private photos and documents. So I thought I would review their Privacy Policies, starting with Google. First the bad news. Google saves, analyzes and uses all of your data for their purposes of making money. But they don’t hide this fact from you. They have written out their Privacy Policy in simple terms so you can read all about it. If you are interested in going deeper, it’s totally worth the time. They tell you straight out what they are doing. They compile and sort your data and activity, from your Gmail account, your photos, where you travel with your phone, what apps you use, how your smartphone is performing and what you search for on the internet. They say they do this to enhance your internet experience with pushed information that suits your interests and patterns. You see this with faster map searches, consistent language choices, autocomplete forms, YouTube video suggestions based on past searches, ads for the last store you visited online etc. etc. And if you have other devices connected to their services, like home control, or smartwatches, they will collect that as well. What that really means is that they can build comprehensive data packages of targeted and specific audiences that they can sell to their advertisers. But before you go all Mr. Robot on me let’s look at the fine print. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first but they do allow you to control, to a certain extent, how much information they can collect from you and if that information is directly connected to your name and contact info. In my How To document Google Privacy Settings, I break down the relevant sections for both your Google Account and your Google Photos so that you can go through and review your activity and privacy settings. It is very easy to do and Google provides many areas where you can read more about a particular setting and how it effects your activity. If you dig deeper into their information, you will also find that they,
…don’t show you personalized ads based on sensitive categories, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, or health.

…don’t share information that personally identifies you with advertisers, such as your name or email, unless you ask us to. For example, if you see an ad for a nearby flower shop and select the “tap to call” button, we’ll connect your call and may share your phone number with the flower shop.(1)

In addition, you can read their Public Transparency Report where they talk about how they ensure high levels of encryption for data as it travels from your devices to the cloud as well as how they manage government and third party requests for information. In many places they reiterate that they never sell the information they collect. Why would they? Information is their most valuable asset. It’s what sets them apart from other online services. Selling effective, directed advertising is also what pays for your free Gmail account and your free Google Photos and Google Drive storage. One might argue, as Bob Anderson at Quora does, that they are still making money from your data and therefore it is “selling” but ultimately, that is for you to decide. As with file storage security so goes information privacy. You have to understand what you are using and how it best applies to your lifestyle. All of this incredible convenience, using Google Maps to determine local traffic or find a good coffee shop, being able to control your thermostat with your phone, share your photos with friends, auto fill out forms, save passwords, all of these things and more comes with a price: information for convenience. But let’s think about what is private anymore. Everything is tracked. Almost everywhere you go, if you look up, you will see a camera following your movements. Meaning, without our consent, we give up privacy for implied safety. If you use any points card, be it Air Miles or Aeroplan, your purchases are being tracked. You travel anywhere with your passport it’s tracked. Any transit card, credit card or coffee card is tracked. But there are also laws around how that information can be used. Laws not only for mass surveilance but also data collection. In May, 2018 the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which highly regulates how businesses can collect, keep and use customer information. Google has been on the front lines making sure they comply with the new rules. Nothing is perfect of course. The internet and many companies these days are global in their reach. GDPR can come into conflict with some country’s laws. Time will tell how this will all pan out. Rather than be annoyed at being asked to accept cookies or receive emails, know that they are the result of organizations trying to protect your information. I’m a great fan of the Terminator movie series. With the advances in AI and Machine Learning, I don’t doubt for a second that Skynet is a possibility. The more information we hand over, the more the systems we automate, the more power we give to objects and devices, the higher the possibility of loss of control. Truly, it is up to us to decide how we want to live. I don’t think the internet is going away but it has become a beast worth reckoning with. You need to determine what you are comfortable with. Be informed and decide accordingly.