11 August 2015

The Google Trap

In light of yesterday's abysmal experience with Google Photos, I've been examining how much of my digital life is tied to Google. It's a sobering list:

  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • File storage (mostly taken care of)
  • Blog
  • Chrome
    • Search history
    • URL history
    • Profiles
    • Bookmarks
    • Remote Desktop
  • Identity management on dozens of sites
  • Contacts
  • Chat
  • Map location information and saved addresses
  • Video search and viewing history
  • Social media (sort of)  (deleted) (spoke too soon; damn Youtube)
That leaves music, books, notes, and music to other services. I have had a Google+ account, but rarely used it even before Google started dragging Plus out behind the shed. I prefer to use Twitter, which comes with its own set of issues; that's a different day.

It's odd to contemplate a digital life without Google; I've had a Gmail account since at least 2005, but have imported email that goes as far back as 2001. The stuff I did prior to that have been lost, frankly, and I can't imagine losing more.

It's also odd to find the tendrils that have moved outward from my Google account over the years. Apple is a good example. When I bought my first Apple device, I was prompted to get an iTunes/iCloud/iSomething account and, naturally, used my existing Gmail address. Years later, that has now proven to be a somewhat permanent choice. I can change my ID to something else, as long as it's not Apple.

My approach to analyzing how to move away from Google products was to isolate the things I use to the individual service I get it from, as much as possible. The thought with Apple was to have a @icloud email address and do my Apple business under that. There goes that idea.

So, now I have to figure out what to do. Fastmail seems to be the go-to, for-fee service for mail, but I'm the jerk that wants a custom domain. So now I'm paying for mail hosting, a domain, and the headache of having to keep that working.

I get the value of Gmail and Google services; I'm a long-time customer. The Google Photos issue has shown me, though, that all that data in one bucket is dangerous and potentially increases my risk profile. I'm not sure I can accept that anymore. Now it's a value proposition against my own time and effort. At least Google has my laziness on its side.

10 August 2015

Goodbye Google Photos

Note: See the end of this post for an update

Posted on 10 Aug

Google recently split Photos off of the lumbering, zombied body of Google+ into a pretty slick Service. The iOS app worked great, uploading everything, storage was easy to stay under caps, the algorithms creating some interesting Stories. I was a happy user of a set-it-and-forget-it variety.

Until today.

Today, I logged into Gmail normally and saw 5 new notifications in the Google bell. Odd, I do have a Google+ account but on no day before have I had that much activity. I clicked the notification icon and see 5 new Stories for me to review from Photos. Still thought that was odd, but I did upload a bunch of old photos a couple of weeks ago, maybe the system finally got around to combing through them. My last name starts with "V" so I'm used to getting chosen late based on the alphabet (something I realize is funnier tonight than it would have been this morning).

And then it got weird. The first Story was a trip to Lake Tahoe. I have never been to Lake Tahoe, certainly never been in a proximity close enough to take pictures of the town. There are pictures of people I don't know. There are photos from someone else's vacation. And these photos are tagged as one of my Stories.

I click the next one, "A Trip to Watertown and Chelsea, MI". I get a little nervous as I just moved from Chelsea, MI. I have never been to Watertown, MN, certainly not the Mayer Primary School being pictured in the Story. And then I hit the moment when Google lost my trust. The Story transitioned from someone else's photos from Watertown to my photos taken in Chelsea, MI years ago. The Story showed a trip from Minnesota to Chelsea.
Google seems to think I travelled from Minnesota to Chelsea
Then I clicked in my photo stream. And there were more of someone else's photos. Lots of them: scans of old Polaroids, photos from a trip somewhere tropical, hotel rooms and restaurants I'd never been in.

Two stories have disappeared, but three Stories remain. All of them mix someone else's photos with mine, including our pets.
These are not my tools (although I wish they were)

This is my cat
So, I am now a paying customer of Dropbox, having exported all my photos from Google and transferred them to Dropbox. Now comes the decision of whether I leave the rest of Google's ecosystem. I am having a really, really hard time trusting my data to Google right now (and yes, I know the privacy/data ownership/blah blah blah argument you're about to make). If Google can't get something as simple as keeping my photos separate from someone else's, I feel like I need to move away.

EDIT (11 Aug)

Props to David from the Photos team for reaching out about my issue. They haven't found the source of the problem, but they are looking into it. I won't be going back to Photos, but I do want to credit the team for taking my random complaints seriously.