A newspaper editor recently discovered that Google Photos continues to backup all photos stored on an Android device even after the app has been uninstalled.
David Arnott, an editor at the Nashville Business Journal, says that his finding runs counter to common sense.
"All I had to do to turn my phone into a stealth Google Photos uploader was to turn on the backup sync, then uninstall the app," Arnott explained. "Whereas one might reasonably believe uninstalling the app from the phone would stop photos from uploading automatically to Google Photos, the device still does it even in the app’s absence."
Since the time of his discovery, Arnott has successfully replicated his results several times using his Samsung Galaxy S5.
Concerned, Arnott reached out to Google, but the tech giant stated only that the backup had completed as intended.
A spokesperson for Google has since made the following comment in response to Arnott's discovery:
"Some users have uninstalled the Photos app on Android without realising backup as an Android service is still enabled," the spokesperson told The Register. "This is something we are committed to resolving. We are working to make the messaging clearer as well as provide users who uninstall the Photos app an easy way to also disable backup. In the meantime, if you've deleted the Photos app and would like to turn off backup on your Android device, please go to Google Settings, select Google Photos backup and toggle the switch at the top to 'off.'"
Ultimately, I suppose it's not much of a surprise that Google Photos is able to continue its backup syncing feature despite an app uninstall. After all, as noted by Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch, many of these types of services are meant to work across devices and therefore might be app-independent.
Even so, the fact that Google collects our photos in the background and stores other types of data, including audio recordings of whenever we use our phone's voice search function, points to a larger lesson: we as mobile users need to remember that Google and other tech giants are collecting information on us in ways that might not be readily apparent.
As a result, in all of our online activities, whether on our Android device or on Facebook, it is a good rule of thumb to not do or post anything of which we would not want a record being created, stored, and analyzed by third parties.
This is happening, whether we like it or not, but it's up to us to adapt our online behavior in a manner that protects our privacy.