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Google Photos Compression, License Issues Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 May 2015

A day after the release of Google Photos two issues are getting a bit of an airing. The first is the image compression it applies with the free storage option. The second is Google Photo's license agreement.


The tradeoff is simple. If you want unlimited free storage with Google Photos, you agree to let the company compress your images (at least the ones over 16-megapixels but that isn't clear). If you don't want Google to compress your images, you can pay for storage.

This presents an interesting problem.

The JPEGs you capture on your smart device are already compressed. Recompressing them typically reduces image quality (never recompress a compressed image).

On the other hand, the Raw images you can capture with your camera aren't subject to the same compression issue. The images may be saved as a lossy DNG or, worse, converted to JPEG (we have no idea what Google does with Raw images for the unlimited free storage option).

Google's John Nack earlier today blogged about Google's compression in How exactly does storage work on Google Photos?. He recommends this approach for Raw images:

If you shoot Raw images with a dSLR (as I do), you can choose "Original" from the desktop app and "High Quality" from your phone so that your phone pics don't count against quota. (Every iPhone image besides panos will fit comfortably under the 16-megapixel cap.)

Nack maintains the compression is undetectable, noting, "I don't think a single human (myself included) would ever notice."

We won't use Google Photos for Raw captures but we don't much mind using it for smartphone captures. In fact, we uploaded 274 images overnight to see what the service can do with them.


When we ingest images from our camera storage to our main machine, we add copyright information. Our dSLR images include minimal copyright data but our smartphone images do not. We really wish our Camera app would allow us to add a copyright notice in the Exif header of its JPEGs, but it just doesn't.

So when Google Photos uploads our smartphone images before we ingest them, it's getting an image without our copyright information. We do, of course, own the copyright. But it's hard to prove.

And using Google Photos does, unfortunately, imply your agreement to its ambiguous copyright license.

Dave Mark at The Loop has decided it's too broad for him. In Why the Google Photos license agreement is keeping me out, he worries that it gives Google "the right to use your photos in its advertising."

Here's the section of the agreement he refers to:

Your Content in our Services

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 have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1's, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so your name and photo do not appear in an ad.

You can find more information about how Google uses and stores content in the privacy policy or additional terms for particular Services. If you submit feedback or suggestions about our Services, we may use your feedback or suggestions without obligation to you.

Those "derivative works" could be a lot of things. Google's own advertising is one, as Mark notes. But it may also mean your Assistant productions. Since the agreement includes a "worldwide license to use, ... communicate, publish, ... and distribute" it is clearly too broad for comfort.

We have to agree with Mark when he says, "I wish Google would come right out and say, we won't ever use your photos for anything without your explicit permission."

What would that cost them?

Update (3 June): Mark posted Google's response to privacy issue in Photos licensing language today after a Google spokesperson responded to his concerns with the statement that "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." But as Mark notes, while it shows intent, it "is not at all legally binding."

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