The Google Photos app is used by more than a billion users annually to post and save trillions of images and videos. The procedure is probably the same for the majority of people: you take some images with your phone, and Google’s cloud service instantly uploads them. You might choose the greatest picture, post it on Instagram or WhatsApp, and then stop caring about the others. The images are added to an ever-evolving stream of information about life.
But this isn’t how it ought to be. The privacy dangers associated with uploading a large number of images without ever organising or managing them make it impossible to maintain your photo collection in the future. Before it gets out of control, it’s best to cease hoarding information.
I’ve spent the last six weeks deleting thousands of pictures that had been added to my Google Photos account over the previous five years. I removed 16,774 images and movies in total. Three things stuck out during the procedure and thousands of “delete” taps: I don’t need to store so many images, and organising my collection frees up a lot of space in my Google Photos account. Additionally, my photos collection unwittingly contains a lot of sensitive personal information about both me and others.
My Google Photos collection dates back to the beginning of the millennium, when everything was taken with an eight-megapixel digital camera. There are tens of thousands of photos—exact numbers are impossible to estimate—and Google is responsible for all of them. The images were initially kept on CDs, then were transferred to Flickr before that service’s 1,000 image collection limit, and eventually made their way into Google Photos around 2018. I started paying extra when Google started limiting accounts to 15 GB of storage.
Selfies and pictures from family vacations coexist in the collection. There are many of photographs of food and dogs. It seems like I snap more images every year as phone cameras have gotten better and cloud storage has expanded to seem like an endless resource. I’m not alone in this. A staggering quantity of information about each of us is stored in Google Photos: According to the corporation, 4 trillion photographs will be stored by 2020, and 28 billion new photos and videos will be posted each week.
It took hours of manual work to remove thousands of images. I used an iPad to navigate through all of the Google Photos I had backed up over the previous 15+ years and tap the ones I wanted to delete. I deleted 2,211 images in 45 minutes during one of the longer sessions. The majority of the shots that were discarded were duplicates: Out of 16 photos showing me racing through a forest, just two or three are still in tact. Thousands of screenshots were eliminated, including the moment I became a verified Twitter user and the news report on the arrest of a goat that wasn’t spared.
However, there were a lot of pictures hidden beneath the surface that were never supposed to be retained. I had been saving pictures of passports for years—mine and those of friends who had sent me travel information. I discovered images of the information required to access my bank account. I was keeping track of addresses and screenshots of people’s home-location directions. Private email addresses, NSFW images, screenshots of awkward conversations, popular running routes, travel directions, and images of meeting notes are just a few examples on the long list. My images contained vast chunks of my life. When they stopped being useful, I either forgot they were there or didn’t realise they were there.
These all carry some danger. Google Photos has a solid track record when it comes to data protection, even though the firm derives the vast bulk of its revenue from advertising and states in its privacy statement that it won’t show you targeted ads based on your images. Successful hacks against the business are quite uncommon. However, every piece of data you’re idly storing increases the risk if something does go wrong. A picture of who you communicate to, where you reside, and the locations you frequent might be constructed using documents that could be used to help with identity theft. Aside from any possible data breaches, if my phone is lost or stolen, my images could potentially be accessed. These problems don’t just apply to Google Photos ; they affect all online photo storage services.
But there are other justifications for taking the effort to clean up your Google Photos. It is feasible to continue capturing images and adding to the collection thanks to ever-expanding cloud storage. Finding particular events and the best pictures from them has been simpler once the photos have been organised. The effort would have been too overwhelming to even begin if I had waited a few more years. I could have added another 20,000 to 40,000 photos in another ten years. I now want to sort the newest pictures once a year.
Additionally, my Google Photos account now has more room realistically speaking. I had roughly 80 GB of storage taken up before I started eliminating everything; I’ve now reduced this to about 60 GB. You can organise your images with the aid of several Google products. If you don’t want to destroy images, you can archive them instead of keeping them in your main photo library. Additionally, albums can be emptied of images (it was too late for me). You can remove huge photographs and movies in bulk, along with screenshots and fuzzy photos, using its storage management capabilities. You may also reduce the size of your images by setting them to “storage saver quality,” which will save up some space on your account.
But because I’m so obsessed with keeping my digital life organised, particularly by enforcing a rigorous WhatsApp Zero policy, I could only complete the task to my complete satisfaction if I did everything by hand. There was a nostalgic vortex as I combed through the tens of thousands of pictures I’ve taken over the course of two-thirds of my life. I finished and then I started taking more pictures.