Google’s online power is immense. As well as having market dominance with its Chrome web browser and Gmail app, it’s now managed to develop the world’s most used photo storage website in Google Photos.
The picture storage service, which is available through its website or app, has passed the one billion user threshold. In doing so it’s become Google’s ninth service to have upwards of a billion people using it. (As well as email and web browsing, Android, Drive, Maps, its Play Store, plus Search and YouTube easily pass the seven-digit monthly user figure).
Photos’ growth has been rapid, reaching the colossal user figure in just under four years. However, it has been given a helping hand from Google’s existing dominance within other services.
Android has played a crucial role in its rise as the Photos app comes installed on every device running the OS. And it probably helped that Google gives people unlimited photo uploads for free, as long as the pictures are under 16MP. Photos had a humble beginning, though. It was spun out of Google+’s (RIP) photo sharing option and consumed Picasa in 2016 when the service was shutdown.
The app’s popularity doesn’t really help when it comes to your messy collection of photos though. The ways we use our smartphone cameras – for taking quick pictures of items we want to buy, a ton of selfies, and grabbing screenshots of memes – doesn’t lend itself to a neat set of photos. Here’s how to use Photos to take some control of your picture archives.
Free up space
The growth of cloud storage means there’s less reliance on storing every document, picture and movie on your phone. However, this doesn’t mean that our devices don’t get full quickly. Entry level iPhones come with only 12GB of on-device storage and some of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 models have just 8GB of on-board space.
The first thing you should do with Google Photos on your phone is turn backups on. This means your pictures and videos will be saved in the cloud and accessible through the web. However, perhaps Google Photos’ most useful tool for getting your digital life in order is the capability to reclaim some of the storage on your smartphone.
Within the app’s menu there’s the option to ‘free up space’. In reality, this means backing-up your pictures to Google Photos. Selecting the option will wipe the original photos from your phone and store them remotely.
Get rid of your screenshots
The screenshots we take often have a limited shelf-life. You want to quickly share a person’s terrible Twitter opinion with friends without the risk of RTing the post. Once the moment has passed, the screenshots are largely useless. Through Photos’ search you can select all images deemed to be a screengrab. Select each photo by tapping or clicking on it and then batch delete all the useless images for good.
Make sure everything is rotated
Landscape or portrait? Whatever you pick for your images – never film video vertically – some will end-up upside down. Within Photos’ settings there’s the option for its AI bot, the Google Assistant, to notify you about photos that aren’t quite right. Turn it on and you’ll get prompts to rotate pictures that haven’t turned-out the way you envisioned.
The Assistant will also, if you turn it on, make collages, animations and attempt to apply filters to your pictures. They’re all a little cheesy though, so for your notifications’ sake it’s probably best to disable the feature.
Search for anything
Apple and Google both apply their machine learning to your photos. As well as detecting faces, they’re also able to identify pretty much any object you’ve taken a picture of. Search for fire, you’ll get pictures of candles; look up wine and you’ll be shown all those blurry memories. At the end of 2017 there was mild outrage when people discovered the companies knew what a bra looked like.
The power of Photos’ search is impressive. It is able to identify pretty much any object or activity you search for. Can’t remember when you went camping? Tap tents into the search box and the pictures will come up. The search also works with locations if your pics have the correct metadata attached to them. If you select all the photos with dogs in, it’s possible to create an album (using the + icon) to easily group all your favourite puppers in one place.
There’s one big difference between Google and Apple’s photo classification. Because Apple controls its hardware platforms as well as iOS, it can use its machine learning algorithms on your device. The data doesn’t directly go to Apple’s servers; this isn’t the case with Google which analyses your pictures in the cloud.
Automatically share your photos
We take photos because we want other people to see them. To encourage this, Google Photos allows people to automatically share photos with your friends and family. Within the iOS and Android app, the sharing options sit at the bottom of the screen within their own tab: once you enter the mode you’ll be given recommendations, based on faces or places, of the photos you may want to share.
Within the settings menu there’s the option to share your uploaded pictures with other people. Select who you want to share pictures with and you’re then given the option to let them view everything, photos of certain people, or photos since a certain date. They can download the pictures or add them to their own albums.
While you’re in the settings menu you should turn on the ‘remove geo-location in items shared by link’ option to strip location data from the pictures you’re passing to friends.
Find people’s faces
Google no longer thinks of itself as a search company – instead it self-defines as an artificial intelligence business. As a result, it’s applied its machine learning to pretty much all areas of its business: translation, self-driving cars, and automatically generated email responses, to name a few.
Photos is no different. Uploading your pictures to Google’s platform means that the company’s algorithms will pour through them to detect faces. If you allow ‘face grouping’ in Google Photos’ settings it will automatically collect all the pictures of the same person together.
To see this in action, visit the photos search page and you’ll be presented with a row of your friends, family and pets’ faces. From here it is possible to label the people (and animals) that have been identified. This means when you search in future, you can type in a name and see all the images of that person.
This power is also the big downside of Google Photos. While you’re getting the service for free, your images are helping to train and improve the Silicon Valley firm’s algorithms. Google’s data security is good, but it’s not the best for your privacy. You and your pictures are the product.
All the information you provide Google feeds into its data-hungry business model of helping to sell personalised adverts. If Google knows you visited London because of your pictures, it can help it to sell more specific adverts. The more information it has on you, the more money it can make from the adverts it sells. (It is possible to delete your Google history to help prevent tracking).
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