Google has recently re-launched its online photo service. In my view, it’s a pretty good contender to be the one place to store all of your photos, if you have a large number of RAW files to work with. There are some missing features, though. I’d like to be able to bulk-manage the photos online, and there doesn’t seem to be a way of buying 2TB of storage – the next option after the $9.99 1TB option is the $99 10TB deal. But it’s coming on in leaps and bounds.
One new feature that’s appeared is “Search & explore: things”. This attempts to data-mine all of your photos, and indexes them. Looking at the thumbnails it’s generated for my library, I’d say it’s got around 1 in 6 of these wrong. I need to test this tomorrow, but I’d guess that’s an image recognition ability of a five-year-old child. But a child that never forgets, and one which can learn from every image on the internet. I’ve being doing digital photography for eleven years, and I have nearly 100,000 images in my library. I’ll never completely catalogue them. I’ll probably never have to, now.
So far, so amazing. Until you consider the profound privacy problems. Are you happy for this information to be available to corporations for profit, state and security agencies, criminals or the just plain prurient? But what about the wonderful benefits to science or healthcare if these images could be mined en masse? Via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and iCloud, Pandora’s Box is already open – so we get hope, alongside all of the new evils.
I’m left thinking more about the psychological consequences, however. On a functional level, you’re moving your image data up to the cloud. But these photos are often an audit trail of your emotions – so it’s more like an off-site backup for your memories. What if you need, or want, to forget something? Eternal-Sunshine-of-the-Spotless-Mind-As-A-Service, anyone?