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Google Photos License

The Coolest Stuff You Didn t Know Google Photos Could Do WIRED


LicensingGoogle’s Terms of Service clearly state that “You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.” Which is great news. However, the next passage of the ToS is something to consider carefully:

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services.”

Now, it’s important to note that this is the ToS for all of Google’s services, not just photos. What’s more, this is a very typical passage in Terms of Service agreements. Google’s not the only company that has a passage like this one—in fact, it’s likely that the majority of the services that you use include something similar. So what does it mean?

Essentially, by using Google Photos, you agree to license your photos to Google for the purpose of “operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.” Conceivably, this could include using your photos for marketing materials down the line. Your permission has been granted just by uploading. This could be a problem for professional photographers who sell their photos to clients who demand exclusive rights to the work.

It’s not terribly likely that you’ll wake up one morning to find that Google’s used your photo for a massive billboard campaign. But it could, and it’s important to know that before you surrender all your photos to Google.

However, Google wants to alleviate any concerns about a surprise attack on your photos. A spokesperson told me the following: 

“Google Photos will not use images or videos uploaded onto Google Photos commercially for any promotional purposes, unless we ask for the user’s explicit permission.  The photos you upload to Google Photos are private, unless you choose to share them.”

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I wonder if most people care. 

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