Google may have sent your videos to a complete stranger

Are you one of Google Photos 500 million users? If so, there is a chance that your saved videos might have made their way to someone else, due to a glitch in Google’s data export service…

Google Photos
The latest figures are that 500 million people use Google Photos. Image: Google

Data breach

Google has been contacting users of Google Photos to inform them of a ‘technical issue’ that occurred between 21st and 25th November 2019.

The glitch affects people who used the ‘download your data’ service. This is an export of your media saved on Google Photos, including images and videos.

According to the tweeted message, exported videos were sent to unrelated users’ archive files. Not only does that mean that your private videos might now be in somebody else’s Google Photos account. It also means that you may no longer have videos that you were relying on Google Photos to save and that your exported data ‘may contain videos that are not yours‘.

This sounds like a much more serious problem than a technical issue! I’d recommend checking your account pretty quickly if you use Google Photos…

Google photos data breach
The message from Google Photos was posted on Twitter. Image: Twitter

Google security

This is not the first time that there have been concerns about Google Photos security. Back in July 2019, a user posted in the Google help forum. They explain that:

Any album shared with other Google accounts is made public and anyone can access it, whether they are logged in or not.  This happens even when the “Get shareable link” option is off. This means that anyone can access your shared photos, even though Google Photos would make you think only the accounts you specified would have access.

Whilst Google has not replied to the thread, another user says that Google Photos is not meant to be private. For any sensitive material that you wish to share, they recommend using Google Drive instead.

I’d say this is pretty shocking. I don’t use Google Photos myself (I happen to use Dropbox!) but would say that regardless of the purpose of a photo storage service I would expect my personal images to be absolutely private.

You would have thought that after the 2018 disastrous Google data breach, they would have learned some lessons. Two years ago, a software leak in the Google+ API compromised the data of over 5 million users. As a result, Google+ was shut down in April 2019.

Google photos
1.2 billion photos are uploaded to Google every day. Image: Google

Keeping your media safe

There are a number of things you can do to keep your Google Photos safe. Make sure you check the sharing settings on any album you are storing and any new ones you create. You should also check the sharing settings on your account to make sure it is private.

Geo-Location can be turned off too so that your images are not linked to location mapping.

We don’t know how many users have been affected. Google has yet to make much of an official statement. In my opinion, they don’t seem to be taking this nearly seriously enough! Perhaps they were hoping that, by only contacting affected users directly, the problem would be kept quiet…

In a statement to 9to5Google, a ‘Google spokesperson’ said:

We are notifying people about a bug that may have affected users who used Google Takeout to export their Google Photos content between November 21 and November 25. These users may have received either an incomplete archive, or videos — not photos — that were not theirs. We fixed the underlying issue and have conducted an in-depth analysis to help prevent this from ever happening again. We are very sorry this happened.

Do you use Google Photos? Have you been affected by this issue, or have had any similar experiences before? Will you consider switching to a different media storage provider?

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