Long-lost—or simply long forgotten—photos are popping up on Google without some users knowing it. If you’re at all concerned about the privacy of your images, you’d better double-check whatever you’ve uploaded to Picasa and Blogger, as the sister sites are showing off images they host directly in Google , making it easier for people to find them.
I was tipped off to this image privacy issue a few days ago when I received a Google notification that my sister had tagged herself in one of my photos. “One of my photos?” I thought. “But I haven’t uploaded anything to Google yet!”
What she had found, by looking under the “Photos” link associated with my profile,” were pictures of us traveling together… in 2008. Three years ago, I had uploaded the photos to Picasa, made them public, and sent the link to my family. I rarely use Picasa (if I recall, I used it on this occasion because I maxed out my free Flickr space), so I forgot to take the images down later or mark them private. Either way, I was never too worried that business associates or loose acquaintances would come across the pictures, as they’d have to search pretty hard to find them.
But now, all those photos are in Google, easy enough to find from the “Photos” link on my profile page.
Who Can See What?
After all that talk about how easy it is to create Circles (even though some disagree), see who’s in a Circle, and share content with only specific people, it’s surprisingly much more difficult to figure out who can see your images and albums.
All the images that I had uploaded to Picasa and marked “public” were also public to Google members by default. Images hosted in my Google Blogger account are, by default, sorted into an album titled with my blog’s name and are “Visible to: Limited,” meaning only people with the link. In other words, public Picasa albums become public Google albums, but Blogger images don’t show up automatically on Google even though they remain public on your blog.
Next, I looked at “Photos from posts,” meaning images that I posted to Google , and saw one that I uploaded just yesterday marked as “Visible to: Recipients of the original posts.” But I don’t remember which Circles I included when I posted the image, much less who is in them without being able to see each person’s headshot.
How to Change What’s Public
When you see the “visible to” information, you have the option of giving access to more Circles, making the album public, or making it private. To make it private, you have to delete any Circles that are currently granted access, including the “Public.”
If you click “Share album,” Google lets you share pictures in an album with either the Circles of your choosing or the public at large. To clarify, “the public” includes all the people who have put you into a Circle, regardless of whether you follow them back. If Joe has Jane in a Circle, but Jane hasn’t added Joe, and Jane makes an album public, Joe can see it. But if Joe makes an album public, Jane can’t see it unless she adds Joe to a Circle.
If you Share the album with only a select circle—and remove any “public” setting that may have been on there by default—Google shares (i.e., posts as a status update) the album to the people in the Circles you selected. If some of the people you’ve added to a Circle haven’t joined Google yet, you’re given the option of emailing them a link to the album instead.
The bottom line is, if you’ve ever used Picasa—ever—you should check what’s in your Google photos. Some of the images could potentially be completely outdated, or worse, very embarrassing.