Google’s response to privacy issue in Photos licensing language

Last Friday, I posted about concerns with language in the Google Photos license agreement (see Why the Google Photos license agreement is keeping me out).

Some specific language to focus on here:

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

As I said last Friday, this language appears to give Google the rights to use your content in a myriad of ways. By uploading your photos, you are, in effect, giving Google those rights.

As an example, suppose you take a photo of a friend, then upload the photo to Photos. The way I read it, Google now has the right to use that photo in an ad for Photos or any other Google service.

The key to that last bit is in this line a bit further down in the license agreement:

Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

This language puts the onus on you to make sure you’ve got the rights to any photos you upload. So if you take a photo of a friend, you might want to mention that they might end up in a Google ad.

To be clear, I love the technology behind Google Photos. I love the idea that my photos will be eminently searchable. I just don’t want to give up my privacy.

After posting about this last Friday, I reached out to some folks at Google. They were very responsive and, ultimately, connected me with a Google spokesperson, who gave me this specific response:

Google Photos will not use images or videos uploaded onto Google Photos commercially for any promotional purposes, unless we ask for the user’s explicit permission.

This is great, and a step in the right direction. My concern, which I expressed to them directly, is that this quote is not the same as a modification of the language in the license agreement. The quote is a statement to me. It does show intent, but is not at all legally binding.

My hope is that someone behind the scenes is working on clarifying the language to address this issue. That’s the moment when I will consider uploading my photos to Google Photos.



  • John Barnes

    This is the sort of thing that most people don’t read. It makes me cringe, and laugh a little, when people tell me this company offers this service free or that company offers some other service for free. Nothing is free.

  • freediverx

    Why would any sane person entrust all their friends’ and family’s photos to a company whose executives make comments like this:

    “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” – Eric Schmidt, Google

    • Noge

      Especially ironic coming from Schmidt — blacklister of webpages critical of Google. He also tried to get pages containing details of his sleazy personal life scrubbed from Google’s search results.

  • Art Diaz

    IANAL, but I’ve heard in other “EULA” kerfuffles that PART of this verbiage is the fact that they are going to do things like “resize” the image for different platforms, they are going to “compress/scale” the image for different browsers/views, they are going to “replicate” the image when making backups or transferring them along the lines of “syncing”.

    I dont know how much of that is “cover” and how much of that is legit. I wonder what the iCloud verbiage is along these lines…

    • freediverx

      Legal verbiage aside, Apple’s business model doesn’t revolve around the hoarding and trafficking of their users’ private information.

      Unlike Google and Facebook, Apple does not have a history of pushing the boundaries on user privacy. One need only look at Facebook’s history of class action lawsuits and FTC investigations to imagine the excesses and abuses we might expect from Google, who shares the same business model.

  • ToddHuge

    So what the hell happened to “Don’t be evil”? Google is just another shady, investor/profit-centric company running confidence schemes. And Millennials, the target demographic, are too naive to understand the magnitude of such language. Cook nailed when he said “…you’re not the customer. You’re the product,” referring to Google’s free online services.

    • freediverx

      Millenials aren’t as dumb as you make them out to be. Yes, they share a lot online, but they’re selective about what they share, where, and with whom – a skill that eludes a lot of complacent and technologically inept older people.

      • Moeskido

        You’re generalizing. There are plenty of dumb millennials who are more adept at using services than understanding or caring about the terms of those services. Just as there are plenty of older people who are neither complacent nor inept, just careful with their personal information.

      • ToddHuge

        I don’t know how smart Millennials are, but my experience leads me to believe they are all too eager to follow the ‘herd’ without much regard or consideration for consequences. To me, that could have disastrous results.

        Does Google have the user’s best interest?

        No, they focus on new ways to covertly mine peoples private information, so they can sell it to advertisers. Google is a parasite and Millennials are their host, and they are intentionally and persistently deceitful about it.

  • marcintosh

    I suspected this was the case, but you make a valid point. If this is their intent they should put it in writing and avoid any confusion.

    My feeling is that, given how many lawsuits are going on in the tech sector these days, I don’t think anyone at Google is sitting around wondering “What can we do to create an opportunity for us to end up in hot water?” I’m assuming they’re smart enough to wonder just the opposite.

  • Majipoor

    “Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.”

    Which makes the service absolutely useless for anyone collecting photos or images from the web for his very own private usage (such as inspirational images or wallpapers).

    Apparently your photos are not private for Google.

  • Merckel

    I would trust Google with photos of my dog.

    • Moeskido

      I wouldn’t, not if those photos were any good.

  • mathieulefrancois

    Google Photos is an amazing product and there’s no reason for people to try to twist the facts around. Google is not using photo data in any nefarious manner.

    • Moeskido

      Wait.

  • nutmac

    Doh. I tried Google Photos and I really love the service (the user interface could be better though).

    But the last sentence sent chills up my spine: “This license continues even if you stop using our Services.”

  • Moeskido

    This service, like most of Google’s other services, is more useful as a spur to competition. I look forward to seeing what Apple and Microsoft come up with to counter it.