Why the Google Photos license agreement is keeping me out

There’s a lot being made about yesterday’s Google Photos announcement.

Some of the brouhaha is centered on compression. If you want unlimited free storage, you have to accept a small amount of compression. Why would Google compress something even if your photos are under the 16 megapixel limit? One possible reason: To provide value, Google Photos needs to run your photos through their image analysis algorithms, producing a version of the image with (I’m guessing here) some sort of embedded tags so they don’t need to ever search those photos again and so those photos can easily be searched.

To me, the argument against using compression is weak. We accept our highly compressed music without (much) complaint. I’d bet that the vast majority of people couldn’t pick out a Google Photos compressed image from a non-compressed image.

Do you shoot in RAW mode? If so, then the free version of Google Photos is not for you. But if you don’t, if you shoot to capture a memory and not as an art form, compression is not the sticking point.

Instead, take a look at this chunk from the Google Photos license agreement:

Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

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). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

If you are going to upload your photos or movies to Google Photo, read these words carefully. The way I read it (and I’m no lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt), at the very least, Google has the right to use your photos in its advertising.

There are darker interpretations, but I’ll leave that to the license agreement experts.

I really like the idea of Google Photos. I wish Google would come right out and say, we won’t ever use your photos for anything without your explicit permission. As is, this license agreement is keeping me out.