Google is sending notices to some Google Photos users with alarming news. For five days late last year, the Google Takeout service, which lets you download your data, sent videos to some users that belong to somebody else. Yes, you read that right. Google already fixed the problem, but that still leaves potentially sensitive videos in the hands of strangers.
The problem began on November 21st, 2019, and continued through November 25th when Google noticed the issue and resolved it. During that time, if you attempted to download a backup that contained files from Google Photos, some of your videos (but thankfully not pictures) may have been sent to other users who were also trying to use the Takeout service.
Google is notifying users through email, but the Google Photos Twitter account is silent on the matter. The mistake first came to light thanks to Google Photos users posting the notice on Twitter:
Whoa, what? @googlephotos? pic.twitter.com/2cZsABz1xb
— Jon Oberheide (@jonoberheide) February 4, 2020
In the message, Google is asking users to delete any archives they downloaded during that time. That’s the best Google can do, unfortunately. Once your data is in somebody else’s hands, there’s nothing you or Google can do to get it back.
The company gave the following statement to 9to5Google:
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 also says that less than 0.01% of users who attempted to use Takeout during the five days received the wrong videos. However, Google Photos has over one billion users, and we don’t know how many are requesting an export of data on a given day. Even 0.01% can be a pretty big number.
If you were affected by the issue, you should have already gotten a notice about the problem. It’s not clear why Google waited over two months to begin notifying users.
Google Photos thrives on user trust; the service wants us to upload all our photos and videos so we can have convenient access to them on our phones, browsers, and even smart displays. Mistakes like this damage that trust and is a good reminder of why you should think twice about what content you upload to the cloud. If you wouldn’t want a stranger to see it, maybe you shouldn’t upload it. Ultimately though, Google needs to do better.