How to Lose Face with Google Picasa: Literally

Here is a bit about the creepy history about your Picassa account and face tagging and other data sharing.

Update: We’re moving from Picasa to Google Photos. Picasa is a service that is no longer supported.

Let’s get right to it.  Google Picasa Web Albums scare me…  A lot.

Before I explain, you should probably get comfy and grab a cup of coffee.  I’ve been thinking about this for several months now and with the release of Picasa for the Mac; I figure it’s time to sit down and get my thoughts on the site.

First, I want everyone to know that I’m a huge fan of Google Picasa and even Picasa Web Albums (especially with the for Picasa Web Albums.) Despite that favorable preface, there are two problems I’m going to talk about today.

  1. Picasa Name Tags
  2. Google Terms of Service Agreement

Picasa Web Albums Name Tags

The Picasa Name Tags feature was announced with the release of Picasa 3.0.  Name Tags (if you opt-in – click Settings, Turn name tags ON) assist you in Tagging people in your photos. It uses facial recognition technology to group photos/faces together so you can quickly add a name to the faces. Once all the faces or people are tagged, you can easily browse your pictures using the Name Tags. I did some testing, and the technology works Amazingly well. A little too well actually… And that’s when the thought struck me:

“Google is indexing the human race one face at a time!”


Enable Picasa Name Tags :: groovyPost.comYes, I know. You must “opt-in” to enable Name Tags. Right? Well not exactly. Even if you don’t use the service and tag yourself, other people might be tagging your face without you even knowing it (especially if they make the album Unlisted or Sign-In Required.) And that is when you lose your face. After years of staying off the grid, no one (that I know of) had biometrics of me in a Database; Finger Prints, DNA, etc. That is until someone, decided to upload my Photo to Google Web Albums and Tag my face.

Google Terms of Service ::

Google’s Terms of Service Agreement (NOT GROOVY)

“So what,” you say, “Google repeats OVER and OVER again they would never do anything with your Name Tag data.”  Really?  Have you read the Picasa Web Album Terms of Service Agreement?  Or, have you read the “GOOGLE” Terms of Service agreement which applies to everything from Google Search to GMAIL to Google Apps?

You will want to read Section 11 of the Agreement; however here’s a “Cut and Paste” as of 01/12/2009:

11. Content licence from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post  or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, Google Terms of Service LICENSE give away privacy AND the FARM :: groovyPost.comadapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this licence shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licence.

Note: Google Chrome is the Exception to this rule although when Google first released Chrome back in September, its EULA contained the same language as the Google Terms.  I was writing about that here but deleted the article when The Register beat me to it ;)

Now… I’m no attorney but, paragraph 11.1 pretty much gives away the farm including the use of my FACE as utilized by the NAME TAGS feature, not to mention my Gmail inbox and all my Search History over the last several years (including any other Google App I might have used.)

So, with ALL this data – My FACE, My Email, My Calendar, my Search History, (and anything else I’m not thinking about like Google Analytics…) – what could GOOGLE/a hacker do with this data?  Or what could the Government do that might subpoena/hack in and take such data? What could they get from it?  Well a few things come to mind, just narrowing the question down to Google Web Albums:

  • Who was I with in the Photos? (Other Tagged Faces)
  • Where was I? (GeoTag entered manually using Picasa or pulled from EXIF/IPTC data or landmarks)
  • When was the Photo Taken? (EXIF/IPTC Data)
  • Was I wearing the Jacket I just searched for on and purchased on Amazon (ABC Retailer uses Google Analytics…? Sorry couldn’t resist)

Scary isn’t it?  Just think about it. Have YOU been indexed yet?  How much of your LIFE has been indexed?

The good news is GOOGLE is not evil!!!   At least I don’t “think” they are.  With all the data they have on EVERYONE in the world, I sure hope I’m right…



  1. shockersh

    January 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    So what does this mean with my GMAIL account? I don’t think I need to be an attorney to figure out what the Agreement above says! I just read the GMAIL terms of service and it matches what you posted. Essentially the agreement gives Google the right to publicly display all my email if they want to… They really need to modify that agreement and put it inline with the Chrome EULA.

  2. Sfree

    January 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    that’s just nuts. Any attorneys reading this? what rights do we the users have with the kind of sh*t in the terms of service?

  3. Joseph

    January 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I’m not an attorney BUT, until the language gets changes I wont be using my GMAIL or Web Albums account any longer. Looks like we have a new EVIL EMPIRE.

    • semps

      March 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      you might want to check into the fine print in other email/cloud related applications, im sure other companies also follow the same style of fine print

  4. MrGroove

    January 14, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Well… I think were all fairly safe to use the services (however I’m still very bothered about the facial tagging). It was a fun article to write and I just wanted to educate everyone out there that it’s important to READ THE FINE PRINT.


  5. alexmvp

    January 14, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Yeah…. and this is probably only the beginning. . Next thing ya know every online photo-site is going to have facial recognition. I have nothing to hide but, I don’t like the idea of people uploading pictures of me and tagging them. This has already happened several times on Flickr from team events.

    Until I read this article I really didn’t think about it so I didn’t say anything….

    • Khoir

      February 11, 2012 at 1:03 am

      So now we can find our fvitraoe images at one place and no worry to lose them. Thanks for suggesting.

  6. sfree

    January 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    FYI – Great conversation going on at:

    Posted the thread originally. Anyway FYI.

  7. Animis

    January 14, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Personally I am never going to use google again (except for YouTube on iPhone)
    My new search engine: Live (with cashback why not)
    Just need to replace gmail and I’ll be set. That’s the hard-part is gmail is so much more advanced than other free e-mails.
    Google desktop sucks and so does google docs. Am I missing anything else? God I’m just glad I didn’t buy a G1.
    I think the only way to avoid the picture indexing is going to be not letting anyone take your picture unless they promise not to upload it with your name attached.

  8. Tazman

    January 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Sorry, don’t buy it. Yeah, google probably has a lot more data than we would ever care to know about but if they “EVER” even in the slightest tried to release any of it to the Public it would be an PR nightmare for them.

    Plus, i’m not worried who has my ugly mug. perhaps google will pull a flickr and start selling the pictures to gettyimages. woot – now i’m making money on the mug as well!

  9. cedv17

    January 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Before talking against Google, you must compare other similar services.
    MSFT’ Yhoo, Facebook have all the SAME TOS.

    So please compare and you will be more credible.

  10. MrGroove

    January 31, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    @Cedv17 – WOW! You must have been reading my next Article BEFORE I’ve had a chance to publish it! In the next day or so once I get the finishing touch on it I’ll be reviewing the YAHOO!, Microsoft, Flikr (Yahoo basically) and Facebook TOS.

    To be honest, FaceBooks the absolute worst in my opinion. All soon to come.

    Welcome to the site Cedv17 and I appreciate the comment (perfect segway!)

  11. Mark

    February 3, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Nice research. I’m going to keep using Google services though and watch my back. You seem to like “quoting” everything btw, even when “it’s” “not” “a” “quote”… and everyone has caught the CAPSLOCK bug too! At least its all in the same colour.

  12. Richard

    November 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I think the writer is absolutely right to be scared.
    Think of all the different services google now offers, and it can basically do whatever they want with the data they collect.
    Of course they will not dosclose to everyone, but what if some government office likes to know more about anyone? If the pressure is big enough, Google will just release the info for the sake of 'national security'.
    Google geotagging, streetview, Picasa webalbums, name tagging, documents, emails, the browser, the search engine… this is a company to REALLY get scared of.
    Add the soon-to-be Google OS on mobile device, and they exactly know where you are now, and have been.
    What happens when I turn up in the background of a pic that seems to show some suspected terrorist? Will my emails be lifted and checked?
    Personally, I think: yes.
    This is just too valuable for governments and 'not so friendly' groups…

    Get scared. I hope it wont be me they make the first mistake on!


  13. MrGroove

    November 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Yeah that probably isn't going to happen. GMAIL is free so along with it comes certain things you must give up. Privacy being one of them.

    Granted, it would start a “storm” if google ever publicly displayed mailboxes but, the juicy stuff is the email address farming they can later re-use or sell (each time someone sends an email to a GMAIL account, Google now has a valid email address they can market to or sell) and the targeted marketing they can perform against all GMAIL users and those they communicate with.

  14. MrGroove

    November 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    The Facebook terms of services is pretty bad…

  15. MrGroove

    November 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Perhaps you can try to get into the new “Google Opt-Out Village”?

    Really funny video on <LOL>

  16. MrGroove

    November 14, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for the “feedback”! I'll admit, I'm not a writer by trade and I'm probably a bit on the dramatic side. Thanks for the feedback.

  17. MrGroove

    November 14, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I've always said “With much DATA comes great responsibility” and with the launch of more and more services, google continues to collect more and more data.

    In regards to Google tracking your every move, have you seen this article:… very interesting. ;)

    BTW – Welcome to groovyPost!

  18. TimothyH

    February 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I’ve been trying to get Name Tags to sync from Picasa 3.6 to Picasa Web for almost four months now. The Google nitwits assigned to solve the sync process have proven to be beyond inept.

    After reading this, I’m thinking it may be a good thing that Picasa Web albums don’t work.

    • MrGroove

      February 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      Hi Tim and welcome to groovyPost!

      Sorry to hear your having issues…. I have to admit I do use Picasa on Windows 7 to organize my photos however yeah…. there’s no way I would sync them to Picasa Web albums for the reasons I mention in the article :) Because of that I honestly don’t have any experience syncing them with Web Albums…..

      Might try posting your issue in our Forum. Might be a few ppl who can assist ya!

  19. Derrick

    February 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Great read! I’m sure I’m like most folks that just and I just click “Next” or “I Agree” quickly and forget about the TOS 3 seconds after it’s left the screen. I love this articles such as this that help me remember just how important those “details” can be.

    • MrGroove

      February 9, 2010 at 9:36 am

      It’s important to remember that nothing is free…. Google is in the business of making money (as are most businesses) so it’s important to be educated about their services and how they might be using your data for profit.

      Thanks for the feedback Derrick & welcome to the site!

  20. Jean Miller

    March 3, 2010 at 8:11 am

    If I do not use web album with Picasa but simply for organizing for my personal use and ipod touch will the danger be as great? I do not use FaceBook

    • grooveDexter

      March 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

      If you only use Picasa offline then you should be okay, the privacy issues come in when your images start to get posted anywhere online using Picasa software.

      The same issues happen on Facebook with face tagging, but they did include a way to manually go in and delete those tags.

      • MrGroove

        March 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

        Exactly. Using the MAC or PC version of Picasa you will be fine. It’s only when you upload the photos to a Picasa Web Album that you need to worry about them. But also, don’t forget that if SOMEONE ELSE takes your picture and shares it online, all bets are off.

        If your like me, you might want to be proactive and let your friends know you don’t want them to post pictures of you or your family on the various services like Picasa Web albums, facebook etc…

  21. Marlyebone

    May 22, 2010 at 3:38 am

    The only way I can name my photos is to link them with a Gmail contact address. So, not only do I name them, but Google can then track them and share their information with the world.

    This seemingly helpful addition, is quite terrifying to me!

  22. Don Lind

    May 31, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Ummm…. so when we post photos at the web album site…
    Say we DIDN’T “give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”
    Without pretty much that whole thing, Google would be unable to let us see our own photos. Look at what it says… Without those abilities, their web servers couldn’t show US the photos. They need to have the right to take your “big” photos and serve them back “modified” (smaller). They need the right to send them across the internet from their servers to someone’s PC when that person is viewing your web album. They need them royalty-free (they’re not going to give you money every time someone views your web album).

    Just saying… :-)


  23. John

    January 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    GOOGLE IS EVIL!!!!! They wouldn’t use their sleazy lawyers to give themselves full rights to your stuff if they weren’t would they? This is power that people shouldn’t have and the fact that companies with all this power like Google and Microsoft align with certain political parties is even scarier.

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