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Aghast iOS users report long-deleted photos back from the dead after update

Apple might be hanging on to nuked iPhone snaps for a while


Some iPhone users are reportedly seeing photos they had previously deleted resurface on their devices ever since updating to the latest version of iOS.

The user reports originate from Reddit, and it's not just a couple of Apple users experiencing issues. By our count, 16 people who deleted their photos say they've come back. The deleted photos are apparently marked as recently added, making it very obvious which have made a comeback.

One user says that even photos from 2010 reappeared, and that they have "deleted them repeatedly."

The Register was able to find a handful of instances of X users reporting the same problem. However, if the bug (assuming it does exist) was widespread, there would likely be far more reports across social media in general.

The recent complaints were preceded by a different Reddit thread where three users reported the exact same thing happening in the beta version of iOS 17.5.

The users connect the return of deleted photos to updating to the latest iOS version 17.5, and there are all sorts of theories on what causes the issue. The basic premise for all theories is that the photos aren't entirely deleted, and that they stick around either through local storage or within iCloud.

The local storage theory hinges on the fact that the act of clicking delete on iOS and other operating systems usually doesn't destroy data because actually deleting the information for good requires overwriting it. Instead of doing the intensive process of overwriting files with zeroes every time someone wants to delete something, most of the time the area where such code is stored is marked as free to use, and the data will be overwritten over time by newly made files.

The other idea is that Apple is keeping user photos in the iCloud storage service for a very, very long time, and that it's the source of the revived photos. This theory has some credibility, if we can believe the user that said photos from 2010 re-emerged, which is questionable through local storage since the user must have gone through at least a couple different devices in the last 14 years.

What actually causes the photos to get added back to users' devices is also unclear, although some suggest it's due to a bug fix that went too far. Some users previously reported disappearing photos on older versions of iOS 17, and the fix may have resulted in both accidentally and purposefully deleted photos being brought back to life.

If the issue is genuine, it wouldn't be the first time iCloud has kept its hands on data after it was supposedly deleted, despite Apple's emphasis on the privacy of its users. Back in 2017, iCloud was patched to fix a glitch where user browser history was retained for up to a year or so.

The Register asked Apple to comment. ®

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