Google Plus “Instant Upload” for iPhone Images: Two Warnings

It's easy to enable Instant Upload by accident, since only one big button is available

My friend Brandon Carroll recently talked about Google Plus automatically uploading personal photos from the iPhone. His instructions are useful for those wishing to turn this feature off, I would like to add another caution: Although Google Plus’ “Instant Upload” feature is not the default, and it sets them private anyway, it’s easy accidentally to turn this feature on and end up in the same boat with Brandon. And the issue isn’t just privacy!

Google Plus Instant Upload is a dubious future, to be sure. Who really wants their entire iPhone camera roll automatically uploaded to Google? I’m sure some people do, but I certainly don’t. It reminds me of Apple’s poorly-considered Photo Stream feature.

What Instant Upload Really Does

As seen above, although Google Plus does not turn on Instant Upload on its own, it entices the casual user to enable it. When the iPhone app is updated or installed, Google shows the screen above after login. This UI offers three options, with the most aggressive selected automatically, and a single button marked “Continue”. Numbed by endless EULA warnings, many users will likely tap the big blue button and go about their business not realizing they just told Google to upload their entire Camera Roll over Wi-Fi or the cellular network.

Google Plus Instant Upload is not technically enabled by default. But it is selected by default, and the interface is obfuscated enough to catch the unwary. Why not include a red “Cancel” or “No, Thanks” button?

Even if Instant Upload is turned on, it doesn’t make your photos available to all. Instead, it sets them to “private” and holds them in a special folder. You can then choose to share them or delete them online. This is slightly more useful (and user-friendly) than Apple’s Photo Stream, but I fail to see the utility in uploading everything by default. I’d rather do it manually.

Impact on Limited Mobile Plans

I’m disappointed that Google would design the interface in this way, but I’m more concerned about their default selection of using the mobile network as well as Wi-Fi. In this age of restricted unlimited data plans, it is unwise for users to stream every last one of their 8 megapixel iPhone photos over the cell network! At the very least, Google should have picked the “Wi-Fi only” option by default.

As for me, I’m turning this off and keeping it off.

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  • Level380

    First up, I love the instant upload feature its a great way to keep my phones photos backed up etc.

    You raise the question about mobile data usage backing up your 8mp camera photos. What you imply is slightly incorrect, as the google plus instant upload photos are not sent in full res. Google instant upload resizes the photos down to 2048 x 1536 res. This reduces most photos down to about ~350k, compared to many MB.

    Google is very clear on this fact and any photo that is 2048 x xxxx and under is not counted towards any of the file storage space. Google is giving you instant upload for free!

    At least you got it right about the default permissions not being public. Big plus there for you!! :)