All the tech giants say they are protecting your privacy but Apple has made it part of their corporate values. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook has said that privacy is a “fundamental human right”. For those that are worried about the security of their data in the cloud and on their devices, this is music to their ears.
The two main places for the average user to store their documents in the cloud are Google Photos and Apple Photos. In this Photo Sharing Overview, I broke down a comparison of cloud software out there for people to consider. For ease of use, functionality and affordability, Google and Apple were at the top. I spoke about using Google Photos and their approach to privacy in this post. Now we need to look at Apple.
The essential difference between the two cloud services providers, besides Apple’s CEO’s passion for privacy, is how they make their money. Google makes money off of your data by selling target audience compilations to advertisers. Apple’s primary income comes from hardware.
The company’s main argument for why it’s a better steward of customers’ privacy is that it has no interest in collecting personal data across its browser or developer network. It simply doesn’t need to, because it doesn’t make its money off advertising.(1)
The data they do collect to improve your “experience” is not connected to your personal ID and is generalized. The data that is collected via Apple Pay, imessage or Facetime is encrypted and protected by “Secure Enclave” on the device. It is not saved to Apple servers or backed up to icloud. In their Transparency report that describes the requests for information they receive from government bodies they speak of how they don’t allow for any direct or back door access and that all requests must meet applicable laws and that apple only provides the narrowest possibly set of data.
As is true of most internet services, we gather some information automatically and store it in log files. This information includes Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, browser type and language, Internet service provider (ISP), referring and exit websites and applications, operating system, date/time stamp, and clickstream data.
We use this information to understand and analyze trends, to administer the site, to learn about user behavior on the site, to improve our product and services, and to gather demographic information about our user base as a whole. Apple may use this information in our marketing and advertising services.
Of course, no company is perfect and though, in light of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytics crisis this year, many companies, including Apple, are buckling down on how their privacy settings work, Apple still has its weaknesses.
The problem is with the apps that are developed for the apple devices. These may have access to your contact info and any sensitive information you have stored there. Apple says it forbids these companies from collecting, using or selling this information but it has no way of controlling it. Once it has approved an app there is little oversight. This is the same scenario that got Facebook in trouble. (4) Apple has said,
The relationship between the app developer and the user is direct, and it is the developer’s obligation to collect and use data responsibly.
So user beware. As with all things online, don’t assume anything. Make sure you understand what you are buying into. Check the settings of the apps you use to make sure you are not sharing your contacts with third parties. Unfortunately, any change to your settings now will not delete any information you may have already shared.
As a side note, it is a good idea not to use your social media passwords as sign in for other apps and websites. If you are concerned about information that is shared with third party apps, there are ways of shutting them down by going into your account information and clicking on Settings and then Apps. This works for Facebook and other social media sites.
Full disclosure, if you hadn’t guessed, I am a Mac user. I used PC devices most of my career and only moved to Mac reluctantly. However, I have become a convert to their ease of use if not their cost. As for Privacy, I like what Apple is saying. I like it way better than Google. Maybe that’s my age speaking but I see no reason to share my personal information with the world. I don’t need product suggestions or auto fill for my forms and searching. I don’t need to give up information for convenience. I want to think for myself. It takes more work but in the end I get to have more control over my environment. As Tim Cook says, the question comes down to what kind of world do we want to live in.
Technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us.(5)
Recently, when I have encouraged my friends to back up their smart phone images to the cloud I have met resistance. They are suspicious of this “cloud” thing. They don’t think their images will be secure. This resistance to the cloud could be the result of two things. News coverage of celebrities having their accounts hacked and a lack of understanding of what the cloud is and how it works.
First let’s address this ridiculous word “cloud”. A friend recently admitted that she couldn’t wrap her mind around this esoteric concept of her images floating around in space. The word doesn’t sell the concept very well. Even the origins of the use of the word are a bit vague. Essentially, the use of the word is the result of computer technicians trying to visually express what the “internet” would look like.
It has been used as a symbol in the Information Technology industry since the 60s but it didn’t really gain mainstream use until the late 90s with the advent of Salesforce and Amazon Web Services.(1)
So the “cloud” means the internet. But where are your images actually stored?
Simply put, when you save your images to the cloud, you use the internet to upload your images to a large room full of computers or servers. Those servers could be located near your home or anywhere a cloud services company such as Google, Amazon, or Apple has server farms or buildings on your continent. These servers hold thousands of terabytes of data from many companies and individuals around the world. They have incredibly sophisticated encryption and back up systems. They are many times more secure than your computer at home. Meaning, having your images stored on an offsite server would mean they would be very secure.
But what if those servers get hacked?
The famous story from 2014 where Apple was “hacked” and Jennifer Lawrence’s personal images were splashed around social media is still prominent in people’s minds. But the industry is addressing this issue.
Apple has stated that they were not hacked but that the accounts were accessed through a process called phishing whereby people are tricked into giving up their passwords via an email scam. In other words, a lack of understanding by the user is what allowed their security to be breached. Which brings us to the essential point.
Nothing in this world is 100% secure. You could save all your photos on your computer hard drive. But your computer could get a virus or have a hard drive failure, or your house could be broken into and your computer stolen. You could save your images to an external hard drive as well. If you keep that hard drive in your house it too could be subject to the same hazards – theft, fire, flooding. You could keep a second hard drive in a bank vault. A good idea but still, that bank is subject to the same risks as your house. Bottom line is there are risks to every place you physically store your precious items.
So when it comes to protecting your images, the cloud is just one of a few solutions. As they say, best not to store all your apples in one basket. We go into this in more detail in this article.
As for the cloud and anything else on the internet, the user must take some responsibility for the security of their data. Understanding the protocols of the cloud services company you use is essential. Yes, once your data is uploaded it is encrypted. But every company uses different standards for how that data is then stored and who has access to it. And simply put, what is free has the least security protocols.
Google and Apple both allow you to personalize your security settings. Amazon Web Services probably has the most customizable services but they will cost a bit more. Most importantly, almost every service now has two-factor authentication and I strongly urge you to set this up on your online accounts like Apple and Google. Two-factor authentication means you sign in with a strong password (not your birthday or your dog’s name) and then you enter a time sensitive number that is sent to your cell phone. It sounds a bit cumbersome but it guarantees that if someone steals your password, they still can’t access your account. And don’t trust any “official looking” emails asking for your passwords!
Insurance companies exist because of fear; fear of the worst case scenario. The question comes down to, how important are your photos to you? When given evacuation notices, one of the things people grab first are their photos. Everything can be replaced except memories.
I’m a photographer. My work is in my photos. But so is my life. I would hate to lose my images. So, I back up my smart phone and camera to my computer. I then make a duplicate of those images to a separate hard drive. That hard drive is held off site. Finally, I save my images to the cloud. It may seem excessive to some but it is peace of mind to me.
Your choice of provider depends on whether you want to view and share your images or just store them off-site. I created this document, Photo Sharing Overview where you can compare their services.
One of the essential steps in the process of protecting your photos is to make sure you are saving a back up of your images to the cloud or off site storage. But choosing the right photo management provider can be challenging. Here are a few tips to get you started.
The advance of smartphone cameras has allowed all of us to take as many pictures as we like virtually for free. But at some point, your phone will run out of space and the time will come to move the images into some form of backup system.
A lot of the confusion about putting images in the cloud is around the difference between a sharing platform and a backup storage platform. Facebook is a sharing platform and should never be used as a backup of your photos. Same goes for Flickr. Google, Apple and Amazon and storage platforms that also allow you to share.
People have probably told you to save your images to some form of storage platform. But as smartphone technology continues to develop and the providers continue to change their offerings, it’s hard to keep up. Our kids laugh at our ignorance but the reality is we just don’t have the time to stay on top of who’s providing the best backup services. There are jobs to do, mortgages to pay, lives to live.
Your choice of provider really comes down to the type of smartphone you and your family members use, how many and how big your files are, and finally, your budget.
Type of Phone
As we all know, the world of digital photography has totally exploded in the past 15 years. My first digital camera was 3MP. When Apple introduced a smartphone in 2007 it was 2MP. The latest iphone has 12MP and three lenses. Huawei’s smartphone camera can shoot 40MP. The technology keeps getting smaller, more refined and more powerful.
Even with all the advances, one thing has remained the same. Are a you a Mac or a PC? It’s not that Macs and PCs don’t like each other, it’s just that in the world of bites and bytes, like prefers to talk like to like. So, if everyone in your family prefers the iPhone and they have iPads and Macbooks, it can be easier to stick with the Apple platform and use Apple Photos as your provider. The same goes for Pixel smartphones and Google. This is not a hard and fast rule, just something to keep in mind.
Number of and Size of Your Images
Understanding your storage needs can get a little confusing. Most people simply shoot images and a little video with their smartphones. Others like to ramp up their video production and create high resolution movies. Some providers put limitations on video size and image type so knowing what you and your family like to shoot is important.
When it comes to knowing the size of your files, there are two numbers to keep in mind. The resolution of your images and the size of your images. Your smartphone camera resolution is defined in MegaPixels. That is how many millions of pixels there are in one image and the amount is determined by multiplying the number of horizontal and vertical pixels.
My iphone shoots 12MP. The image size is 4032×3024 pixels. Which means each image has 12,192,768 pixels. We then say that the image (divided by 1 million or a mega) would be a 12.1 MP image.
However, that is not the file size of the image only it’s resolution. The resolution of an image is its quality, the more pixels in an image the smoother the lines, the better the colour and depth. But the higher the resolution of an image, the larger the image will be.
The size of an image is defined in MegaBytes or MB or (10,000 Bytes).
Basically, to create a colour digital image, the sensor uses 3 colours per pixel. Each colour is defined as a byte.
So to determine the size of our image we need to multiple 12,192,768 by 3 which would be 36,578,304 bytes.
But that is too big to really talk about so we divide it by approximately 1000 (1024) to turn it into kilobytes (1000 bytes) and then divide again by approximately 1000 (1024) to get MegaBytes.
We then end up with a 34 MegaByte or 34MB uncompressed image.
But smartphones almost always shoot in a JPEG format which is compressed to save on space. So in actual fact the images on my 12MP phone average 3-5MB in size.
In terms of online storage space, Apple offers the first 5GB or GigaBytes (1000 MegaBytes) for free. So you would have to store up to 1000 images to reach that total.
Google offers the first 15GB (15,000 MegaBytes) for free. That would be up to 3000 images for free.
But as I said, most people shoot images and video so the number and size of your videos will affect how much storage space you will need.
The size of video depends on resolution and how long the video is. Most providers will limit free storage to video that is shot at 1080p but many smartphones can now shoot at the much higher resolution of 4K. Google will compress your video to fit their requirements which could really affect your project.
In addition, all the providers allow you to back up more than just your images. Documents, music, and email can be included in the backup process and will add to your total count for storage. You can choose what you want to back up in the settings but it’s a good idea to back up all the files that are important to you. If you wanted to save money, you could just save your other files with a different provider or to a personal hard drive.
If you are a Mac user then you will most likely prefer to use Apple Photos because it syncs so well across all the Mac devices, iPhone, iPad, MacBook etc. But what else is good about Apple Photos.
- First 5GB free
- Auto upload with wifi from your phone or iPad. Synced with your computer when signed into iCloud
- Store images in the cloud and keep a smaller version on your phone to free up space
- If all members of your family have iPhones you can create a family plan for about $4 a month/200GB
- Share private photo albums with friends and family who have an apple id
- Can create albums to organize your images and view them on both your phone and computer
- Edits to images are synced across devices
- Can view images on your devices through airplay and Apple TV
- Apple One account allows you to upload photos, documents and more
- Third Party printing options available through iCloud on your computer
How To Set It Up
Go to Settings on the Phone / Click on ID at the top / Click on iCloud / Turn it on and customize
Google Photos is a natural choice if you use an android device but it also works quite well with any device.
What has separated Google from the rest in the past was the free unlimited storage of your images. For the trigger happy photographer it was the best deal, so long as you only shot jpegs (what all smartphone cameras shoot) and were willing to keep the image size constrained to their specifications (less than 16MP – what most smartphone cameras shoot).
However, all of that will change as of June 2021 when they will no longer offer free unlimited storage. There rates will most likely be similar if not lower than Apple but it is something to keep in mind. Pixel 1-5 phone owners are exempt from this change.
- First 15GB free
- Need a Google account to upload images (free, comes with Gmail address if you have one)
- Upload images easily through an app on your phone and wifi.
- Available for PC and Mac users
- Free up space on your phone by deleting images out of the proprietary photos app but you can always view them through the Google Photos app and wifi
- Can upload images from your computer too through HTTPs://photos.google.com
- You can share albums with anyone by sending out a link but that link is not necessarily private
- Organize your images on the phone or computer with albums
- Excellent face recognition, pretty good object recognition to help with organizing
- No real printing options from the software
- Google One is the family option – one payment for multiple accounts. Plans start at around $2 for 100GB. Any type of file, including gmail accounts, documents can be uploaded but all count toward your quota.
How To Set It Up
- Download the Google Photos App
- Sign in with Google account.
- App has to be open on your phone for automatic backups to the cloud
Amazon Prime Photos
We’ve included Amazon in this list because if you are an Amazon Prime member you get free unlimited photo storage and 5GB for other types of document storage. However, unlike Apple and Google photos, the sharing options are limited.
An Amazon Prime membership is around $79 CDN a year but you get the movie and music streaming services and deals on shipping from Amazon.ca as well.
- Best for people already paying for Prime and have family members who need to back up images too. Also best for just cloud storage not actual viewing, sorting, or editing
- Back up on phone is automatic with Amazon Photos app. On the computer you have to use the Amazon Drive desktop app but you can set it up to auto backup at certain times.
- Available for both PC and Mac users
- Organize photos by date or album
- Share files only through social media
- Files are private unless you share a link to them
- Viewing and organizing images once they are uploaded is awkward
- Printing is available through Amazon Prints but only in the US
- More Info
Once you decide on the best photo management provider for your needs, the set up is pretty straight forward. However, if you do hit some bumps along the road, feel free to contact me for advice. The first consultation is always free.
Happy Backing Up!