Google Photos, the Final Blow for Privacy

Written on 2015-05-29

Google just announced that they will host and sync all of your photos and videos, for free, forever. Let me give that a moment to sink in.

All of the images you have ever captured, backed up to one of the most secure clouds in the world, and automatically synced to all of your devices – iOS, Android and desktop – for free, forever.

I find that fucking scary. Besides the fact that a company with a user base that big – more than 1 billion Android users – is able to pull that off financially, here is why:

One of Google’s employees wrote a blog post, that it is now able to analyse and caption images automatically. You really have to see it to believe it. These images have been automatically processed and captioned without human interference:

As Aral Balkan put it, we have entered an age of digital feudalism, where the poorest – unable to buy similar digital services – will pay with their data and privacy. And the frustrating part is that there is no easy way to stop it. Google is valued at a higher price than the GDP of about 200 countries. So many people are invested in the company, financially, psychologically and even on business level (you use Google Apps, right?). How will anyone stop that?

You do not have to be annoyed by CCTV anymore, not of all the camera’s that are in public spaces or stores. People filming you on the streets? Not really an issue anymore. Those were actions that took place in public spaces anyway.

No, you now have to be afraid of those close to you that have Android devices. The seemingly normal action of taking a picture at a private party is now Google’s own private CCTV network in action. Photos are uploaded automatically to Google’s cloud, analysed and categorised. Even if you choose not to use any of their services, they are able to build a profile of you, based on photos and videos your friends take of you. Because they have facial recognition software running on their servers that is better at recognising people than you are.

Welcome to 2015, it is now 1984. Your most private moments are officially non-existent. Google Photos was the final piece of the puzzle, the final move in a chess play designed to index all of the world’s data. All of it. Even your most intimate moments. Big G is always watching.

When one of my friends whips out an Android phone, I will yell “Duck!”. Because it might not be Mussolini, Stalin or Mao this time, but this new totalitarian regime comes awfully close to how casually their atrocities started. We need to do everything within our power to make sure that never happens again.

PS: Although I personally find selling a person’s data for advertising purposes immoral, I do not insinuate it will be Google that abuses this information to do something horrible to mankind. Their business model is advertising, obviously not killing people. But there is much more at stake here. We need to be very wary that someone with a more evil mind cannot ever abuse this absurdly centralised goldmine of millions of people’s most private data. The best way to do that is to decentralise.

PPS: I am truly sorry if this post offended you. Some of the references were tasteless and unnecessary. I did not try to trivialise any one historic event, but I can see that it could come across as such. I have amended the text to focus less on one specific event in history. It is precisely because I want us to learn from history and totalitarianism that I wrote this in the first place. Previous references did not help getting the message across.