Does Picasa Tagging Violate Your Google+ Privacy?

    July 25, 2011

Google+ is really concerned about privacy, or at least, that’s the approach Google takes. When new users sign up, Google has a number of “are you sure” responses when privacy settings are adjusted. Clearly, they are trying to pick up the slack where Facebook failed. What, then, is the problem with a new feature in the updated Picasa platform, Google photo-sharing software? Apparently, Google’s motto concerning tagged images is “tagging is sharing,” and it has some users unhappy with the feature.

Before the reaction is addressed, Google explains the tagging feature quite clearly:

Tag approval
You’ll receive an email letting you know you’ve been tagged in a photo. By default, name tags by people in your circles are automatically approved. You can view or remove tags at any time on the photos homepage in Google+ as well as the Photos tab on your Google profile. You can also update your settings to manually approve every name tag. When a tag is approved, the tagged photo is posted to the Google+ stream.

Tag visibility
Name tags are visible to people that can view the album. Approved tags link to your Google profile. Unapproved tags are still visible on the photo, but they don’t link to your profile. In addition to appearing on the photo itself, photos of you with approved tags will be displayed on the Photos tab on your Google profile and the photos homepage in Google+.

Now, the fact that tagged photos automatically appear in a Google+ stream is what has people up in arms. Understandably so. Sharing is not something that should be standard. Users should be able to pick and choose what they share. Apparently, from Google’s eyes, when you add a tag, you are agreeing to share it. Nevertheless, people aren’t happy with this discovery. Over at the Picasa help forum, reaction isn’t kind:

Apparently I can no longer organize my web album without sharing it to the world!?
In this help doc you say that “Tagging is sharing”, that means that if I choose to rganize my web album with tagging people in it I (by default and no option not to) share it to everyone I tag EVEN if I do not share it with a single soul! This is WRONG and a major PRIVACY concern!

And [sic]s are included:

I completely agree. This move goes against Google’s supposed philosophy of controlled sharing within circles. Like many others, I use PicasaWeb as a backup and for organising my photos, choosing exactly who I would like to see them. I pay for the extra storage and have been very happy with it. Why on Earth would I want everybody that I tag in my photos for organisational purposes to be emailed about it, and then able to share my album with whoever he or she pleases? I also do not want others to have control of the tagging of my photographs, which I organise so meticulously. PicasaWeb was not a social network, and forcing it into becoming one renders it useless to all of the people who have used it for so many years. I thought that Google were going about + the right way up until now, but this is a disgrace.

And one more:

Here’s a specific use case which highlights why this is completely unacceptable unless something is changed:
I import all my photos from my camera using picasa to a “photos” folder. This folder is “synced” – meaning any changes are updated live to the web album. Eventually, I like to reorganise those photos copied from the camera into separate folders… but this takes time. In the meantime, if “people” tab in picasa identifies some of my friends in some of those photos… well, guess what? If I accept the people tags (without easily knowing which folder those photos were from) then the WHOLE FOLDER is shared with them… and the potentially anyone else in the world.
Why is this REALLY, REALLY BAD? Here’s an example of things I’ve taken photos of that are in my photo folder right now: my passport, my lease, my room and personal items, friends in private gatherings, etc.
Someone could potentially use this information for identity theft, etc.

There is NO WAY that this is going to work, google. NO FREAKING WAY.

Is this overreaction or is Google subtly pushing Google+ on to the masses now, by making tagging such a universal sharing feature? Comments like the ones featured go on for two pages, and if this isn’t addressed by Google, it will only get worse from here. Of course, one wonders why someone would take a picture of their passport and post into a publicly-shared album, but then again, the user obviously didn’t know they were sharing such images.

Currently, there isn’t much response to glean further information from, but you can bet if the outcry gets loud enough, Google will take Picasa’s tagging feature back to the drawing board, at least in terms of Google+.