More than a billion people use the Google Photos app each year, resulting in an enormous volume of media being uploaded and stored. It’s possible that for many people the procedure is the same: they take pictures with their phone, and those pictures are sent straight to Google’s cloud storage. You may look through all of your photos, select your favourite, and then post it on social media. The pictures are added to a never-ending flood of information about living things.
This is unacceptable, however. It’s impossible to keep track of your photo collection in the future if you upload thousands of photos without taking any action to sort or manage them, which poses a number of privacy problems. The moment to cease hoarding knowledge is now before the consequences become unmanageable.
I have spent the better part of a week every week for the past six weeks going through hundreds of images I’ve uploaded to Google Photos over the past half-decade and removing them. I have deleted 16,776 media files in total. Over the course of this procedure and many taps on “delete,” three things were clear: Wrestling my collection into shape frees up a lot of space in my Google account, and I can safely delete a number of images that include private information (about me and others).
My collection of photographs dates back to the beginning of the millennium, when I used an eight-megapixel digital camera. Google is responsible for all of the tens of thousands of photos (exact number unknown). The photos were first kept on CDs, then transferred to Flickr before that site imposed a 1,000-photo restriction on user collections, and finally landed in Google Photos sometime in 2018. I started paying for more space after Google introduced its 15 GB limit per user.
Selfies share space in the album with family vacation photos. Plenty of photographs of food and dogs can be found. I take what seems like more images each year as phone cameras get better and cloud storage gets bigger and bigger. That’s not just me, by the way. It’s impossible to overstate the amount of personal information stored in Google Photos: The firm claims it will have stored 4 trillion images by 2020, with 28 billion additional images and movies being added weekly.
It took a lot of time and effort to manually delete hundreds of pictures. For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve used an iPad to go through every photo I’ve stored up and delete the ones I no longer want. I deleted 2,211 pictures in 45 minutes during one of the longer sessions.
Most of the photographs I deleted were just copies, so now instead of having 16 shots of me racing through the woods, I just had the top three. The moment I was verified on Twitter and the news report about an arrested goat were among the thousands of screenshots that were deleted.
Underneath, though, were numerous photos that had no business being saved. I had been photographing passports for quite some time, both mine and those of friends who had emailed me their information so that I might book them on vacations. I was able to access my bank account since I had images of the information I needed to enter. I had been keeping a database of addresses and screenshots of driving directions for various folks.
There is a long list of things that could be compromised, including personal emails, inappropriate photos, embarrassing chat logs, regular exercise and travel routes, and notes from secret meetings. My photographs documented significant portions of my life. They were either invisible to me or I had forgotten about them the moment they became unnecessary.
Identity theft could be aided by documents, and other personal information could be used to piece together a picture of your social circle, residence, and activities. If my phone were to be lost or stolen, not only could my personal information be compromised, but so would my photographs. (Google Photos isn’t the only service that has these problems; any cloud-based photo archive will have the same ones.)
There are, however, other factors to consider while editing your images. With infinite cloud storage, you can keep capturing pictures and adding to the collection. Once everything was organised, it became much simpler to look for particular events and the greatest images related to them.
I could not have begun this project till now, but if I had waited a few more years, it would have been impossible. Another decade could have resulted in an additional 20,000-40,00 of my photographs. Now, once a year, I intend to organise the most recent images.