Google Photos may be free — but there's still a cost
Updated on 5/29 10AM ET to add information from Steven Levy's excellent interview with Google Vice President of Streams, Photos, and Sharing Bradley Horowitz, and to add information about Google's high-quality photo pricing tiers.
For more on Google Photos, check out Android Central's comprehensive coverage
Google announced its new Photos service at I/O today: It looks a lot like iCloud Photo Library, but with even more perks. Automatic slideshow movies! Insta-GIFs from burst photos! Interactive stories! You can automatically search for faces, places, and things without tagging! It syncs with iOS and the web! And, oh yeah — unlimited* (if your photos are 16MB or less) storage for free. What could be better?
Well, to start, it's important to know what "free" might actually cost you, and whether you're okay with that tradeoff.
The dark side of free
As a company, Google has a lengthy history of offering free services with outrageously awesome storage capacities: Look at Gmail or Google Drive. There's a great business reason for that: free, in many cases, equals mass adoption. People love free things. One less bill I have to deal with? Sign me up!
As a result, you get an awesome service you don't have to pay money for. But what does Google get from this relationship? Data. Lots and lots of data.
When you offer a free service, you're likely to get many more people to sign up or download it than if that service was offered at a cost. Google in large part uses this data to improve and expand its services: It needs those vast user numbers to make its services the best in the world. But because the company isn't charging for its services to get those user numbers, it still has to make money — it isn't a charity.
And therein comes the potential dark side of Google's data usage, where the company pays its debts by leveraging its biggest asset: you. The millions of people who sign up for free Google services agree to terms and conditions that give the company permission to access certain subsets of any information you put online.
In plain English, that means being able to sell custom ads against your data: showing you a Nordstrom ad for shoes, for instance, because Google knows from search or web history that you looked at some yesterday, or from Gmail that you purchased heels at the store last week.
The company uses this data to sell to advertisers, and advertisers in turn get a much closer look at you, your spending habits, and your daily activities. For some people, this is a perfectly reasonable tradeoff for "free". But many others sign up for these services without ever quite realizing what they've given away.
The potential of photographic data
An image may be worth 1000 words, but image metadata may spill far more information than that, especially when applied to a Google service. According to this year's Google I/O keynote, the Photos service will offer a search function that can find people, places, and objects — all without any active tagging on the end user's part.
It does this in part by scanning your image's metadata: the location and other information your camera builds into the underlying code of your digital image. For the rest, I suspect Google is inventing its own supplemental metadata, using rapid image scans and automatic face detection as part of the company's continuous "machine learning" system. It may not be perfect at the start, but as Google gets more and more photographs to scan, it could become the most accurate auto-tagging service on the Internet.
In an interview with Medium's Steven Levy, Google Vice President of Streams, Photos, and Sharing Bradley Horowitz talks a bit about their systems for doing this:
On one hand, that's fantastic for users: They'll have a speedy, smart search option that can help bring up the image they're looking for even if they've never written a word about it.
But, like with Gmail, this kind of technology innovation costs money: I doubt the company is making this feature available out of the kindness of its heart. Google has yet to put up its terms and conditions for Google Photos, so we don't quite know what it might do with this metadata — how the company's advertisers might be able to use or not use it — and whether you'll be able to opt-out and still use the free service.
According to Horowitz, Google has no plans to utilize this data for advertising or other means... yet:
I want to reiterate that Google's goals for using your information aren't intentionally shady: The company is trying to use your data to help you live your life. Down the line, however, targeted ads may well fit into that life. It's just a matter of what data you want to share (and potentially give) to companies for their usage.
Flickr's advertisers can not only insert ads into your Flickr timeline, but they can also use your metadata and information to customize ads for you. Hypothetically, this information-gathering could result in something like the following: Say you went to Disney World last November, and you pull up the photo album in May to give it a look through. After your tenth picture, you get an ad that encourages you to plan a trip to Disney World this fall and gives you a special coupon for it.
Helpful? Sure. Creepy? Just a bit.
It's also worth noting that Google Photos isn't entirely free in the conventional sense: Despite not mentioning it on-stage at the I/O keynote, Google's service is only free for those uploading video under 1080p and photos under 16 megapixels. Upload anything larger — say, a great DSLR shot — and if you're on the free plan, it's automatically compressed. For some, again, this may not be a problem, but those who want to back up their images at full resolution will have to pay for a plan. To Google's credit, those plans are significantly cheaper than Apple's storage options: 1TB will cost you $10 on Google to Apple's $20. For people with large libraries that won't quite fit into iCloud Photos Library or those on more of a budget, that's an incredibly appealing price.
Proceed with caution
As I've said multiple times above, I'm not going to advise people against signing up for Google Photos: Google has a lot of admirable technical goals, and it genuinely believes this kind of mass data-gathering will help achieve those goals. But the company may not be able to get the vast userbase numbers it needs to make its search services best in class without making those services free. And if they're free, Google has to pay for them in another way. Right now, Google has no plans for ads in your photos, a la Flickr, but, as Horowitz said, they're not opposed to the idea.
Apple has chosen to go the opposite route for its Photos service: The company charges for storage beyond 5GB, but underneath that is a top-tier guarantee against data-mining and unauthorized use of your personal information. But that monetary cost — atop a dozen other bills — has proved somewhat of a barrier to people looking to store their full libraries in iCloud. Google's large free tier and pricing for larger, HQ libraries is a shot across the bow to Apple in that department, and it'll be interesting to see if Apple responds come WWDC time. The service is currently being outpriced by almost every other one in the game, and it might be worth putting a few million dollars from its massive savings account toward storage to encourage new users to give it a try.
Choose your own adventure
At the end of the day, it's up to you to choose whether you're spending your money or your data on your online services. It's a personal call. I'm not going to decry Google for its practices, nor will I put Apple's iCloud Photo Library service on a pedestal. All I'm advocating for is that when you choose a photos service, you know and choose how you're paying for it. For me, that choice is simple.
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Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
On the other hand, Google's entire business model is based on data collection. Two completely different things.
Googles AI for say face detection is getting crazy good, and evolving at lightning speed. As the demo showed they are able to track a face all the way back to birth with great success. Now, imagine millions of people uploading all their photos, and start naming people. In a very short time you will give Google the ability identify everyone by faces. Be it webcams, videos, youtube, nest smoke detector, DropCam, Googles Glasses, VR, selfdriving cars, cameraas, Broadcast, etc. They will literally be able to detect and identify just about anyone, anywhere at any time. You think Facebook is scary with personal information? Now Google is going one beyond, and everyone can upload photos they have taken with me in them, and Google can simply suggest "Is this John Appleseed?" And it´s not to John Appleseed if Google should have him in the database or not. It´s there by default as you can´t prohibit everyone from taking your picture or uploading it. This is the first time I have played around with a app, and realised that this is the beginning of something terrifying. Privacy is dead.
You guys are so brainwashed by Google it's hilarious. You guys cherry pick little bits and pieces of information in order to skirt the entire forest in front of you that one company's entire business revolves around data mining your information, and the others about selling hardware. There's nothing more to be said here, and you guys can keep spinning reality all you want, it's amusing to watch. http://www.salon.com/2014/02/05/4_ways_google_is_destroying_privacy_and_...
Let me try to explain in very general terms: Google uses your personal information to sell to companies which rely on advertising. iMore could be one of them, so are other online advertisers. Those advertisers buy your info from Google. THAT is what makes you the product. Google is selling YOU to them. Your examples make absolutely no sense because in your examples, you are the AUDIENCE to iMore and the CW. And you are paying for content (movies, articles) by having to watch those commercials. You are being charged, and it's by having to watch commercials. Why would iMore charge you to see ads?? THAT IS HOW YOU ARE PAYING FOR THEIR CONTENT, BY HAVING TO SEE THOSE ADS, LOL. If I want to sell widgets I need to advertise them. So I buy space on iMore's website to advertise to you, the audience/viewer. That's how iMore makes money, I pay them to show my ad on their site. And in order for that to work, they need pageviews which come from YOUR EYEBALLS. These ads are tailored to you better by buying Google's product, namely, YOUR INFORMATION.
Therefore you are Google's product, but you are not iMore or CW's product. You are the audience there. But because the audience/viewer is better targeted when the advertising medium knows who they are, your personal data is used to make that happen, which is Google's product. Do you understand now?
Okay, well that's because you, Google, don't sell anything patent-able, you sell ads. So it's easy and completely disingenuous for them to act all noble about patents. Apple has to patent things because they sell THINGS. Those patents protect innovation because without them, companies won't have incentive to spend hundreds of millions on a new product which takes years to develop so that another company can reverse engineer it and copy it to market in a few months time.
Is anyone here an adult that understands these things?
https://support.google.com/photos/answer/6220791?p=storage&rd=1 High quality:
Unlimited free storage
Size: Save high-quality photos and videos while reducing size. (Euphemism for Compressed) Original:
Limited free storage: Uses your Google Account's 15 GB of free storage.
Size: Store your photos and videos exactly as you captured them. (Euphemism for Originals)
2. You didn't want to sign up for Google+ just to use the product. They have similar issues with Hangouts (and other products) and some of its features requiring Google+ (Group Video Calling, and Picture Messaging) limiting adoption, even among users who own no Apple Products and multiple Android devices. Google can easily develop a desktop client for Google Photos if they ramp up Picasa development, but I'm not sure if they want to go there. It's easier for them to develop and update web apps, and it's more beneficial for them to do so since they don't have to worry about users who never visit their other services on the web and simply use only the desktop client.
We also count, track and aggregate the visitor's activity into our analysis of general traffic flows at our sites (e.g. tracking where traffic comes from, how traffic flows within the Mobile Nations sites, etc.). To these ends, we may merge information about visitors and visits into group data, which may then be shared on an aggregated basis with our advertisers; but we will not disclose your individual identity or personally identifiable data without your permission. When we do present aggregated information to outside companies, no one will be able to identify you or contact you. ==== Oh, but Google is evil!
But Google do.
--- So does Apple.
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=== Yeap, Apple collects, tracks and uses your data. You won't see Rene or Serenity whining about this, though.
Its serenity’s review, nice review not perfect but well written, She said "its up to you"
However maybe she should be sacked or burned at the stake for simply having an opinion that’s different from yours
2. It's (a contraction, BTW) up to you. The person you're speaking to, will still likely be offended by it, because the weak attempt to sugar coat is was... weak. Personally, I think this is done purposely to get more clicks and activity. It is Google I/O and people are more apt to visit Android-Oriented Sites for this news. If the headlines and writing are unbiased and pedestrian, people will just stick to other outlets during the event. Being a troll and inciting debate is an easy way to get people to click, stay longer, and come back because everyone wants to have the last work in any debate... This isn't the only site that does this. BGR was well known for doing it, and some people accuse CNET and the Verge of doing it as well. I do think this is the only Mobile Nations site that does it with such regularity and predictability, though. The others seem boring by comparison, largely due the lack of Writer-Trolling going on on those sites. You notice this tends to happen a lot whenever Google, Samsung, or some other very well known company has an event (like Microsoft as well, but to a lesser extent). In between those events, you don't really see so much of the disgustingness spewing forth from them :-)