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.