These days, online photo storage solutions are wildly popular; it doesn’t matter why you enjoy taking pictures—whether they’re for sale, documenting a family vacation, or being featured on Instagram. Either way, you want those cherished files to be safe, both from computer crashes and hackers. Especially for Android users, one of the more popular storage options is Google Drive, but is Google Drive safe for your photos?
Google Drive is safe for your photos if you want to keep them safe from accidental deletion and limit access. The platform has excellent internal data security (256-bit SSL). Yet, Google uses your data for commercial purposes, and new photos count toward your 15 GB data limit starting in June 2021.
This article will look at the security Google uses to ensure your data is safe from hackers and data loss. We’ll also talk about the potential security weaknesses and limitations.
Why Google Drive Is a Safe Place for Your Photos
Perhaps the most significant reasons Google Drive is safe for your photos are that Google uses encryption and has top-notch network security practices. Together, these mean that images parked on their servers are unlikely to get deleted or intercepted by outsiders.
Google Is a Cybersecurity Expert
In the minds of hackers and other data thieves, Google is a gold mine because it has lots of information on billions of people. While this gives Google great power in the market, it also requires them to become cybersecurity experts.
Such virtual security requirements are similar to the way banks and governments safeguard money and other valuables: they aim to make the prize inaccessible. Failure can have disastrous consequences, so Google takes every precaution.
Data Is Secured Using Encryption
One precaution they take is data encryption. When you send a photo or other file to Google Drive, they encrypt the information using a 256-bit SSL/TLS protocol as it travels over the internet. Then, they use a weaker encryption standard while the data is on their servers. In this way, Google ensures that it’s hard for people to steal or copy your files while they’re in Google’s care.
Encryption is effective for one fundamental reason: it makes a file useless to anyone who doesn’t have the key or permission to view the file. As the file owner, you have free access to all the files you place on Google Drive.
Depending on the access rules you put on your data, it remains guarded against unauthorized access. And if a data thief manages to steal a copy of the file, they won’t be able to open and read it. If you’ve ever gotten an “access denied” message for someone else’s file, you know how this works.
Google Has Very Secure Servers
Another precaution Google takes is physically securing its servers. Data centers are heavily guarded, with fences and security personnel. In addition, all their server farms have employee access rules, security doors, and other barriers to unauthorized access. Google even wipes hard drives that are retired. Employees also learn to control access, so intruders are unlikely to get anywhere.
When you think about it, this physical security regimen is similar to how we guard our valuables. Safes and lockboxes secure valuables at home, and banks move money in armored cars with armed drivers. A considerable amount of force, and even good luck, is needed to breach those defenses.
Google Protects Your Data From Loss
Finally, Google Drive is a safe place for your photos because it has precautions against data loss. In particular, they put your data on multiple servers. This way, if one server crashes, then the data is recovered from the other server. Both copies, of course, are encrypted to protect from unauthorized access. This method is similar to what you should be doing to protect your home computer data: having a backup location for your files.
Drawbacks of Saving Photos on Google Drive
Although Google Drive is a safe place for your photos in terms of their not being lost or stolen, Google services have a significant drawback. Because Google doesn’t usually charge for this service (extra storage is available for a fee), they have to make money in other ways. Your data is key to how they make money.
Your Information Helps Them Sell Advertising
The most significant way that Google makes money off of your data is through targeted advertising. In a nutshell, this is the process of deciding which ads you see based on what you find interesting. This technique is similar to the cookies placed on your browser to track you around the website. Once the site visit is over, the cookies often result in your seeing advertisements for that same website.
With data-based consumer targeting, the technique is similar. In this case, Google takes a peek at your data to see what you’re interests are. If you had a fancy vacation in Hawaii, you might see ads for something equally lovely in Bora Bora. Google makes more money this way because advertisers are willing to pay for the higher level of advertising effectiveness.
They, Not You, Have the Encryption Key
Next, be aware that the party who has the encryption key for data can ultimately control that data. Google keeps all those encryption keys, meaning that they can always decrypt the information you’ve stored on their servers. It also means that they can take your data and put it in a form that you can no longer use. While Google is unlikely to do this, it’s always a possibility.
Another concern with their having the encryption key is that Google is subject to court subpoenas. If Google gets a warrant for your data, they can decrypt the information and give it to the government. Photos that depict criminal activity or are illegal in some jurisdictions should stay off Google drive for this reason. Similarly, it’s risky to store any picture on Google Drive that could have legal repercussions.
There Are Data and Functionality Limits
Finally, be aware that using Google Drive to store your photos is subject to significant limits. Starting in June 2021, Google is making certain photos on Drive part of your overall 15 GB data limit that you share with Gmail and the Photos app. For this reason, you might want to use Google Drive as a temporary backup or only store your favorite photos there.
Another limitation is functionality. Unlike Google Photos, your Google Drive account isn’t set up for photo editing. This limitation means that Google Drive itself is primarily suitable for storage. Depending on your intended use of the photos, however, this may be a minor issue.
There Are Alternatives
Fortunately, Google Drive isn’t the only option for storing photos. If you want no-frills storage without privacy concerns, OneDrive, Dropbox, and Box are other cloud solutions. Alternatively, you can keep your photos on an external hard drive, such as this one from Toshiba. You still may need editing software, but at least you have total control.
Google Drive is a safe place to store your photos. Network and physical data center security are excellent, and the files are encrypted. Plus, Google lets you control who sees your files. However, there are some drawbacks.
Google does make money from your data, and they control the decryption keys. Therefore, you have less control over your data than you might when using other storage options. Finally, you’ll need to consider the limits of Google’s data quota.
Please see some of our other helpful articles like “What Is 8K on a Smartphone’s Camera?” and “Smartphone Camera Accessories That Can Help Improve Your Photos.”
- Comparitech: Is Google Drive Secure?
- Google: Data Security Page
- Paperless Movement: Google Photos: Are Your Images Safe?
- Business Insider: Is Google Drive Secure?
- Google Blog: Storage Changes
- Zapier: Google Drive vs. Google Photos