First and foremost, I have to admit that Google Photos is pretty spectacular. Actually, really spectacular. It hoovers up all my photos from wherever they are, lists them by date and so much more. It figures out what is in the photo so that you can search by subject like bikes or dogs. It glues them together into slideshows and silly gifs. (In fact, this isn't really a thorough review because I have barely begun to figure out what it can do.)

For the last few months I've been using Apple’s Photo, and I think it's wonderful too, with it’s great search and most importantly for me, the way it seamlessly keeps the right amount of free disk space on the relatively small drive on my MacBook. I have to pay four bucks a month for cloud storage, but it's so much easier to manage than iPhoto was with my almost-full drive. Google Photos, on the other hand, does not cost any money; Google will store all your photos (in a compressed form if they are too big) and it doesn’t even come out of your Google drive space. Having used both, I have to agree with Walt Mossberg, who concluded:

The new Google Photos brings the company’s expertise in artificial intelligence, data mining and machine learning to bear on the task of storing, organizing and finding your photos. And that, combined with its cross-platform approach, makes it the best of breed.
However I had a queasy feeling as I uploaded my photos into Google’s servers. My grandmother always told me there’s no such thing as a free lunch; it was true in the '70s for free TV and it's true for the Internet — "if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product." Photos take up a massive amount of storage space and bandwidth, yet Google is giving this away. What can they possibly get out of all my photos?

Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch has some ideas of what they might be doing, and he reminds us of our decade with Gmail:

There’s no doubt Google Photos is a massive land grab for personal data — at a time when visual imagery is the biggest social currency of the web. Just as, a decade+ ago, Google launched its own webmail product with significantly more storage as the carrot to peel users away from rival email products, it’s now repeating the trick with photos — using the competitor-beating promise of free unlimited photo storage to lure in and lock down access to mobile users’ principle [sic] expression stream.
It’s no surprise that Tim Cook of Apple doesn’t think much of Google’s model, and came out in attack mode at a recent corporate event covered by TechCrunch. Without mentioning names he complains about other Silicon Valley companies:
"They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be." He went on to say: "We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is."
Meanwhile, our beloved Instagram, which according to founder Kevin Systrom was built “to be a place to relax and appreciate beautiful photos” is about to be monetized big time by its owner Facebook. Currently Instagram ads are crudely targeted on the basis of age and where you live; now, according to Recode, “it’s going to start offering more granular access to the data you generate when you’re on Facebook, and also let advertisers bring in data they have about your activities outside of Facebook.”

Living in Apple’s closed ecosystem is sometimes frustrating and can get expensive, from the price of entry for the hardware to the pay-as-you-go services like iCloud. However the Google/Facebook model is beginning to feel decidedly creepy. Perhaps the price of free is just getting too high.

Related in MNN and TreeHugger:

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.