A bug that generates many doubts affects Apple and our photos

A recent news story about an iOS 17.5 bug that causes some deleted photos reappear on our devices leaves many doubts about how our privacy is respecteddoubts that Apple should dispel, but that it surely will not do.

The iPhone has become most people's camera. The limitations that the hardware imposes (very little space for the entire camera system if we compare it with what a conventional camera offers) are more than compensated by a processing system that offers results that most users would never achieve with a good conventional photographic camera. You can forget about adjusting exposure, aperture and other parameters, because your iPhone does it all for you. And all those photos then go to iCloud to sync across all your devices, It locates them geographically, organizes them by face, creates reminder videos that you can watch on your television and computer… and all this without you having to do anything. And all this with the “guarantee” that Apple offers with its encryption systems that ensure that nothing and no one will be able to see your photographs.

But what happens if photos that you deleted 5 years ago suddenly appear on your iPhone? This is what happened to some users after updating to iOS 17.5 this past week. When opening the Photos application, suddenly, photographs of themselves appeared that they knew they had deleted several years ago, and they also did so occupying the positions of the most recent photos, which is why users realized this error. You can read the comments of many of these users on Reddit in a thread with more than 300 comments. Although this type of information must be taken with great caution, because many users take the opportunity to have their own golden minute, the reality is that the problem exists, and it has no possible explanation. For this reason, it is Apple that should offer an explanation that ends the speculation. But while that explanation arrives, which I highly doubt will arrive, here is my own speculation, which of course does not serve to resolve all the doubts generated.

My iCloud streaming photos say goodbye

The first thing is to know what happens when we delete a file from a hard drive: it is not really deleted. To delete it you would have to carry out a special deletion process that no one does, and which is certainly impossible to do on the iPhone (at least for us, normal users). What happens when we delete a file is that we tell the system “this space is available”, so you can use it whenever you want, but the data is actually still there until new data arrives to take its place, which can take a while, or even never happen. That is why data can be recovered from hard drives even if they are “deleted.” This is a possible explanation for suddenly, after updating to iOS 17.5, some supposedly deleted photos reappear. Perhaps the update causes some changes to photos that require reindexing them and some files labeled as deleted suddenly lose that label… But this would be possible if you are using the same device from which you deleted those photos, something that is unlikely. probable if the photo in question is 5 years old or older, especially when we talk about the iPhone.

But what if the same thing happens at the iCloud level? What if the files that are deleted on the iCloud servers are not really deleted either and are still there waiting for some other file to take their place? Things get a little more complicated here, because one thing is that on my iPhone they are deleted but not completely, and another is that Apple has them deleted on its servers but not completely. It is a problem because it raises more than reasonable doubts about our privacy. It is true that our photos have been encrypted in iCloud for a couple of years, and that only someone with our iCloud account can see them even if they physically access those files. But… knowing that my deleted photos are on an undeleted server does not seem to me to be very consistent with what Apple always assures us about the privacy of our data.

Cupertino Apple

Apple boasts in its ads about the privacy it offers its users compared to the competition. And this is one of the reasons why I am users of their products and services. I store my photos and documents in iCloud, because it is very convenient for me, it increases my efficiency at work and I also have peace of mind for my privacy and that of mine. But this news cannot just pass by and let time make it disappear. An explanation of what the failure was and what solutions were taken is more than necessary.but I am very afraid that we will have to continue with our leap of faith.