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.

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  1. Christopher Murray on August 4, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    I agree with everything you say here. I actually really like the Picasa desktop client for organizing and viewing my images locally. I also use it with Photoshop to prepare photos for the web. But when I do post them for viewing by others, I use Gallery2 (an open-source, PHP-based system) on my home-based LAMP server which also hosts my blog.

    I’m skeptical of a lot of the Google tools because I know they do allow themselves the privilege of owning your stuff. Flickr might be a better service for you.

    By the way, I still love reading your blog regularly. We exchanged views on open-source CMS systems a while back, but I always check your feed for new insights.

  2. Greg Reinacker's Weblog on August 30, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Why I can’t try Picasa Web Albums

    Almost a year ago, I reviewed a few photo hosting sites. After that, but quite a while ago, I got an invitation…

  3. Photoethnography.com on September 1, 2006 at 7:35 am

    Photo: Why to avoid using Picasa web albums

    Steve Borsch has an excellent blog entry on why using Picasa’s web album is a particularly bad idea — because posting your images on it gives away all of your photograph’s duplication rights to Google, without compensation and in perpetuity:…

  4. Brian Farrell on August 7, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    That is very scary, and I am very guilty of passing that page out and not bothering my hole to read it, but there it is, the proof, and I can’t belive such a big company would do such a thing. The really fat kid(Google) is eating the biscuit!

    Well thats another useful web app down the pipe. Thanks for filling me in on the details. I’ll be back!

  5. Rose on December 6, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Did you know that when you upload your photos to Blogger that those photos are hosted at Picaso? This is a good reason why not to host your photos with Blogger.

  6. David Martinez on December 14, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Uh, if Google uses my images to promote themselves on their site or on their collateral I’d be stoked. They only post this type of info in their TOS to protect themselves from someone posting images online that they didn’t have the copyright too. I really wouldn’t stress about it. The tools are fantastic.

  7. RK on August 22, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Help me understand this please. If I post a picture/share album which is open for public viewing, Can some one download it and use it on their website?
    Or for the matter of fact even Google..
    If I happen to be on someone’s website or promoting some product, what rights do I have?

  8. Nick Young on September 14, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Clearly this is an example where the fine print can lead to eye-openers down the line. The same thing could be said for the issue with Facebook giving 3rd party app access to data. But let’s put this in perspective. Google has done a handful of amazing things for the entire world, for free. Picasa is still being developed further, and to cut them off completely in a stage of rapid feature growth, is a naive move in my opinion. I have watched some of the changes made to Picasa over the last 6 months, and my opinion has actually changed in favor of them. Let’s wait and see how they respond to the legal clause situation before we bash them off the map.

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