In November 2019, users of Google Photos landed up with videos that were not theirs because of a bug. On February 4, Google sent an email to people who exported their Google Photos library between November 21 and November 25, 2019 informing them about it. A Google spokesperson confirmed this development to MediaNama.
“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.” — Google spokesperson
The company did not clarify when the issue was discovered and when it was fixed, despite us asking about it. They did not clarify what caused the two-month delay or how many people were affected by it. The Next Web, however, reported that Google said that the bug affected only 0.01% of users who requested a Takeout (Google Photos export). The company has also allegedly self-reported to the Irish Data Protection Commission, who monitors the company in the EU, according to a Guardian report. Gadget, a South African technology publication, had first reported the issue.
In the email, users were reportedly told if their videos were “incorrectly exported to unrelated users’ archives” and if videos in their account were affected by the issue. It recommended that users export their content once again and “delete prior exports”.
— Jon Oberheide (@jonoberheide) February 4, 2020
Why this matters: Archiving users’ videos incorrectly has numerous ramifications, chief amongst them the fact that once photos/videos are downloaded by other users, the original owners have no control over their distribution. Sensitive and personal photos and videos might have landed up with unsavoury characters who could use them to blackmail people. In this scenario, the lack of transparency from Google is unacceptable. More significantly, a number of Android and iPhone users use Google Photos as it offers unlimited cloud storage of images, on the condition that Google access these pictures to train its machine learning algorithms.