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Announced at the Google I/O 2015 mega conference, Google Photos (a spin-off of Google+ photo service) now offers users free, unlimited storage of photos and videos and the ability to view, organize, and edit their photos on any device. Yes, there are other storage services out there such as Apple, Amazon, and Dropbox, however, Google’s service is the only one to offer free unlimited storage across all devices.

And even better, you no longer have to subscribe to Google’s social platform to manage the photos. Even regular camera users can use the generous service to edit, share, and back up their images up to 16 megapixels in size and 1080p high-definition video from Android and iOS devices as well as desktop web browsers (see catches and file size restrictions).

Anil Sabharwal (Lead Project Manager of Google Photos) commented on the reality of photo storage, “a social network is not where you want to organize and store all of your private and personal collections of photos and videos. We needed a solution that worked for the photos you want to share, as well as the ones that you don’t.” But the question is: Can we trust another photo/video storage service?

Anil Sabharwal, Director of Product Management, gestures during the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco, California May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith - RTX1EZM5

Photo: Anil Sabharwal – Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google Photo’s Potential  Storage Threats 

As with many new sharing programs and technologies, there come risks to privacy and security. According to Christopher Budd, a global threat communications manager at Trend Micro, “Convenience cuts both ways. Things that make it convenient to share what I want in ways that I want, also make it convenient to share in ways I don’t want.”

So far, there hasn’t been any concrete data in terms of how many people are actively using Google’s Photo service since it’s launch. However, the company did announce last October that its cloud storage service had more than 240 million users. With those numbers alone combined with the new service offered to store photos across a variety of mobile devices, threats are inevitable. And these threats are common ones that all storage services face such as data breaches and insecure APIs (application programming interfaces that verify if a third party producing an application is who he says he is.)

In addition, devices that are not properly secured have the potential for outside parties to invade user’s location, income levels, social media material, and other stored information.  The Verge magazine further investigated this potential security issue and found that, “Google looks through every image you upload as part of its automatic scan, which is necessary to categorize the photos by content. There’s no way to opt out: it’s central to the way Photos approaches organization, and the service doesn’t make sense without it.”

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Photo: powered backups.com

So, what’s Google’s response to potential threats? This question was clearly on everyone’s mind during the 2015 I/O Conference. Anil Sabharwal assured attendees that opt-out provisions are right up front: “if you aren’t comfortable with facial recognition, location tracking, or social sharing, they’re all simple to turn off.” Sabharwal went on further to say that his goal (in terms of Google Photo) is to “start on a foundation of trust.” In addition, Google announced a new Privacy Settings hub where users can see exactly what information they’re giving away on various Google services.

Even with all of Google’s trust assurances, how will its photo storage service and security compare to one of its biggest competitors – Apple? Unlike Google and their need to collect data for ad targeting, Apple doesn’t need to use this marketing technique on their iCloud or iPhoto services – giving the tech giant a slight edge in the cloud storage game. However, Apple’s iCloud has had its share of security breaches as well (remember Celebgate?) – so at this point the leader in the “most secure” cloud storage wars is anyone’s guess.

Christopher Budd additionally claims, “despite the vulnerability of devices, Google is one of the top companies in terms of security.” However, he also added, “there is always a risk for unintended consequences.” Google Photos – to trust or not to trust – that truly is the question, stay tuned…

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