Uninstalling the Google Photos app from your Android device will not safeguard your pictures from being slurped up by Google, it turns out.
Picture Nashville Business Journal journo David Arnott's horror upon discovering that the advertising giant had been collecting private photographs he had taken of his wife and daughter.
"The problem was," he wrote, "I'd deleted all of those pictures, and most distressing, I didn't even have the Google Photos app on my phone."
Whereas one might reasonably believe uninstalling the app from the phone would stop photos from uploading automatically to Google Photos, the device still does it even in the app's absence. Since making this discovery, I have re-created the issue multiple times in multiple settings on my Galaxy S5.
Arnott, an assistant news editor at the NBJ, discovered that the uploading settings on the Google Photos app are linked to the separate Google Settings app on Android phones, rather than the settings of the native Photos app itself.
All that has to be done to turn your Android device "into a stealth Google Photos uploader" is to "turn on the backup sync, then uninstall the app," Arnott writes.
After reaching out to Google, and after reaching someone on the phone and describing the issue, Arnott was told to wait for a comment. "Several hours later, I received a terse email that said, 'The backup was as intended.' If I want to stop it from happening, I was told I'd have to change settings in Google Play Services."
In my personal case, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that Google had access to pictures of my daughter and used that access to develop information, without my knowledge, about what she looks like and where she spends time.
From sexting images, obtained by Google without users' knowledge - GCHQ style - through to just average passers by, captured in a photograph without their knowledge and subjected to Google's facial recognition technology, Arnott suggests there are plenty of details within this realm which are worthy of public concern.
Based on the short response I got from Google, apparently this is how the giant company intended the service to work. But even with the direct confirmation from a Google representative, I'm in denial about it, given that keeping an app functional even after it’s been 'uninstalled' is deception.
A spokesperson at Google told The Register:
"Some users have uninstalled the Photos app on Android without realising backup as an Android service is still enabled. This is something we are committed to resolving. We are working to make the messaging clearer as well as provide users who uninstall the Photos app an easy way to also disable backup."
"In the meantime, if you've deleted the Photos app and would like to turn off backup on your Android device, please go to Google Settings, select Google Photos backup and toggle the switch at the top to 'off.'" ®