Google makes most of the money selling access to you by showing you advertisements. The more targeted these ads are, the more likely you are to click through and make a purchase, and the more money Google can make. The author explains how this affects privacy.
The Google Photos app today houses 4 trillion photos and videos owned by more than a billion users. Even the multimillion army of iPhone, iPad and Mac lovers prefer this service to the Apple alternative, because it offers better search, more features and cheaper storage (at least until June 1). But if you are such a user of Google Photos, the company’s recent confessions about data collection and the ongoing blocking of a key privacy feature from Apple should be a serious warning to you that it’s time to move on to something else.
In the wake of yet another week of sensational news about Facebook’s data collection with hypocritical notifications about App Tracking Transparency and Signal’s brutal reminder of an infringement on our data, keep in mind that Google is a much larger data empire, formed during the golden age. digital marketing fever.
After an embarrassing delay, the company has added privacy labels to all of its major apps from Apple’s App Store, including Google Photos. Like Gmail, Chrome, and Maps, Google Photos is significantly different from its Apple-made counterparts.
As always, the sheer amount of data Google Photos can collect is astounding (according to the company). Google emphasizes that app privacy labels show all the possible data that can be collected; however, the actual collection of data depends on the specific functions that the person decides to use. For example, “we will collect contact information if you want to share your photos and videos with someone; and if you decide to purchase a photo book, we will collect payment information and save your purchase history. But if you choose not to share photos or make purchases, we will not collect this data.”
It is important. And that explains the seeming oddities like the purchase history and payment information that the photo app can collect. Google also notes that iCloud is a content storage associated with Apple’s Photos app, while Google Photos offers more than just photo storage.
But there is also a diametrically opposed approach to privacy, which ultimately boils down to trust. Apple promises that user privacy comes first, and this has become one of the company’s unique selling points. This promise is very credible because Apple makes products. If you don’t buy her devices and services, she won’t work.
Google is different. Most of the money the company makes from selling access to you by showing you advertisements. The more specific and targeted these ads are, the more likely you are to click through and make a purchase, and the more money Google can make from its customers by showing them these ads. Everything we’re talking about in terms of privacy now boils down to this simple premise. This is why Safari blocks trackers and Chrome is testing confusing and flawed FLoC technology in an attempt to bolster its targeted ad machine.
Google explains it this way: “If you watch baking videos on YouTube, you can see more baked goods ads by browsing the internet. We may also use your IP address to approximate your location. This way, we can show you an advertisement for a nearby pizza delivery service if you search for the word “pizza”.
All of this sounds pretty harmless, but the massive amounts of information that companies like Google and Facebook collect about us are much more detailed. Each piece of information allows the advertiser to reach specifically the audience that he needs. And while we all love pizza, the same data analysis can be used to influence our opinions and shape our social media streams to ensure that we live inside our own echo chambers, so that we can be online longer, so that we are more bought goods, and to shape our point of view.
Every app, every platform, every service that helps create these profiles just makes this situation worse. While Google and Facebook will emphasize that the privacy labels associated with their apps improve their services and our user experience, they also ensure that ad revenues in excess of $ 100 billion continue to end up in their pockets.
So you can form a point of view. You may be asking yourself if it is an accident that Google and Facebook’s privacy labels are in such a messy and dysfunctional state, unlike Apple. Here you need to keep track of the money. Google and Facebook generate revenue from digital advertising, and Apple makes money from selling devices and the ecosystem of services. Here’s some pretty simple arithmetic.
There is a catch with these privacy labels. There is a difference between “data with a link to you” and “data without a link to you”. If the data is unbound, the developer has the ability to improve their services, manage their characteristics, track usage data, and even look at the places where their application is used. If the data is bound, then the developer can track you down the data fields, bind this data to you and create a profile for you.
With regard to Apple and Google applications for photos, the difference between such data without binding is just as significant. Apple could improve on a few things here. Google, on the other hand, does not bind only an app crash diagnostics to your personality. Think about it.
Google Photos is a complex platform, and there are many reasons why users need to share information with Google in order to fully enjoy all of its features. If you look at Chrome, which is Google’s main browser, you will see the same pattern: too much data, everything is tied to the user, nothing is unbound. So it’s hard to argue that Chrome is fundamentally different from Safari (and other browsers) in terms of differences between photo apps.
Google claims Apple has a unique advantage as it collects data from multiple sources. But Google is pushing its users on Apple and non-Apple devices to create Google accounts. This means that the company has the ability to store data for Apple users in the same way it stores data for Android users.
If you use Google Photos on one of your Apple devices, there are three things to keep in mind – assuming that the privacy labels didn’t convince you to switch to another option, despite all these additional features.
First, there are major differences in how Apple and Google analyze your photos for classification and search purposes. Apple’s Photos app uses machine learning algorithms to organize photos right on your device. This means that analytical work is not carried out on iCloud servers, unlike competitors’ cloud services, including Google.
Of course, the analysis of all these photographs, all this metadata, allows us to give more primary information for extremely important and comprehensive algorithms. This analysis provides material for targeted advertising, allows you to influence clicks, build profiles, and also allows Google and other companies to calculate you among millions of other users, classify you using artificial intelligence, and also make assumptions about your possible actions and the possible actions of others. of people.
Apple warns: “Some services process photos in the cloud, which gives them access to your photos. But we designed the Photos app to process your photos directly on your iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. I must say that the Apple Neural Engine with A13 and A14 Bionic chips performs over 100 billion operations with a single photo, recognizing faces and places, and all this is done exclusively on your device. And when applications request access to your photos, you can not share the entire library, but only the images of your choice. ”
This last point is an attack on Google. This brings us to the second important consideration for all iPhone owners using Google Photos on their device. When Apple released iOS 14 last year, users were able to share not their entire collection of images with apps, but only selected photos and videos. Why would an application need access to memories from years ago when all you need to do is edit a couple of photos or videos?
But Google doesn’t limit itself when it comes to iPhone owners. When you install Google Photos, you get a message that this app needs access to all your photos. It is supposedly needed in order to view, share or use optional backups. But in terms of privacy, this message is much clearer. All or nothing. And then you move all that data from Apple’s Secure Store somewhere else.
Always remember this feature of data collection and analysis. We now come to the third point. When you use Photos on Google, many of your images will contain data hidden in files that show the exact time and location, the type of device you are using, and even camera settings. The company admits it is putting EXIF data into its analysis engine.
“We’re really using EXIF location data to make it easier for the user to use our app,” a Google spokesperson told me. “For example, we may use EXIF information to show snapshots of your trip from the Memories section, or to suggest creating a photo book of your last trip.”
The last point is advertising, albeit not obvious. Facebook recently admitted this to me. Even if you instruct your phone not to share your location with Facebook, even if you go to Facebook’s settings and turn off geolocation, the company will still “collect and process” your location data through EXIF.
If you “keep track of the money,” it will be extremely easy for you to understand the transactional nature of the relationship you are entering into, in return for all these “free” services. If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product yourself, and this is certain. And when Facebook kind of assumes that it can charge users for their apps if they block tracking on Apple devices, they just put you in your place.
So, while Google Photos has more features than Apple’s corresponding app, you have to understand that there are costs involved. But first of all, we must keep in mind that if we abandon applications and platforms that prioritize privacy, we send a signal to large IT companies that we are not going to change their habits, and that they can continue to collect as much data about us as they want.
This year is critical for privacy. I’m not sure if your data and your privacy in general will be better protected, at least not yet. But now you have at least the information to make an informed choice. You decide.