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Why I won’t be using Google’s Picasa Web Albums

Now that there is a Mac client for Google’s Picasa Web Albums service and I’m a long-time Gmail user (only Gmail users can get access for now), I thought I’d check it out to see if there was yet another photo sharing service where my nearly 7GB’s of digital photos might be stored.

Few people bother to read terms and conditions nor do they understand that the link underneath actually loads a web page that has the same Terms of Service on it. Google presenting the Terms of Service in the manner you see below virtually guarantees that users will be disinclined to scroll through the text in this little box (vs. clicking the Terms of Service link beneath for a more enjoyable reading experience on a full web page). This is a pretty sneaky way to ensure that as many people as possible bypass reading the Terms and start uploading as quickly as possible:

Similar to the recent controversy over YouTube’s new “all your base belong to us” copyright terms, it appears that Google has done nearly the same thing with Picasa:

Your Rights
Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Picasa Web Albums. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Picasa Web Albums and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Picasa Web Albums, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content through Picasa Web Albums, including RSS or other content feeds offered through Picasa Web Albums, and other Google services.  In addition, by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services.

You own your content but Google can essentially do whatever they want with publically available albums. Though albums can be set to be “unlisted” and therefore not listed in a directory, it’s a security-through-obscurity method since Google doesn’t offer an option to password protect albums and instead suggests, “Since they (albums) don’t appear publicly, they’re accessible much like an unlisted phone number – anyone who knows the exact name of an album can view its contents, but there’s no directory for finding them. For this reason, you may want to consider giving your unlisted albums more obscure album titles.” Again, the default is public and most people will choose this option.

Traditional media copyright has become a sad state of affairs and has restricted and eliminated much of our future public domain. In anticipation of the acceleration of user generated content, the Creative Commons was born to provide workable copyright protections for a digital age. This may be a bit harsh, but it’s kind of sad that companies that should know better (e.g., Google) wouldn’t try to surreptiously grab control of user’s content with a Trojan horse of an offering intended to falsely lure in the unsuspecting.

9/6/06 UPDATE: Interesting discussion over at Google Blogscoped about this post…and I weighed in on the comment stream.