Users claim that iCloud for Windows is showing photos from strangers in their library

Nov 22, 2022

iCloud for Windows reportedly has some major problems. Some users have alleged that the app is showing photos from strangers in their library.

iCloud for Windows is displaying images from random people

A report by MacRumors mentions that a user from its community forums had discovered that they were unable to play videos recorded with their iPhone 14 Pro Max after downloading them to their PC. The user could access the media on their Mac, another Apple device, and via without any issues. But, when they tried syncing it to their computer with iCloud for Windows, the downloaded media was not playable, it ended up with a black screen with scan lines, i.e, the videos were corrupted.

In what seems to be a rather bizarre twist to an unusual problem, the video was not only playable, but also displayed an image (likely a thumbnail) from sources they didn't know. The user went on to explain that the issue only occurred with videos that were recorded with the HDR and HEVC setting enabled in their iPhone 14 Pro Max's camera. They weren't the only one facing this issue, other users with an iPhone 13 Pro reported a similar incident.

The bigger of the two issues is that the iCloud for Windows app seems to be picking up images from strangers. Can you imagine how it would be if you see photos taken by someone appears in your library randomly? And what about the photos that you take on your iPhone? Your pictures could end up with a random person, that is pretty creepy.

One user at the community forums speculated that the person could have downloaded a video belonging to someone else. The downloaded media may have been encrypted, which is why they couldn't play the video, since they don't have the decryption key for it. They also suggested that the thumbnail displayed in the folder may not have been encrypted, and that's the reason why the person could access it. That makes sense, doesn't it?  If true, this could mean that the thumbnails of images and videos uploaded to the cloud are not end-to-end encrypted. That could be a serious privacy issue.

Could this problem actually have something to do with the recent iCloud Photos integration in the Windows 11 Photos app? That seems unlikely, because the user says that they were able to replicate the issue on both Windows 10 and Windows 11. Since photos from other iPhone users are showing up in the iCloud library, this is likely an Apple related issue, maybe something related to the authentication on its servers, which in turn affects the syncing process on Windows PCs. 9to5Mac suggests that this bug could be due to a rendering issue in the iCloud app for certain file types.

Apple Insider also received similar reports about the issue. I haven't experienced such problems with media from my Macbook and iPad. It does seem scary, and not just in terms of privacy. If the videos are corrupted and synced to the cloud, you could lose access to the original videos. This is why it is better to rely on good old local backups.

This news comes in the wake of allegations that Apple is able to identify what users are accessing on its App Store via telemetry (analytics).

Have you experienced a similar issue with your iPhone and Windows PC?

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Users claim that iCloud for Windows is showing photos from strangers in their library
Some iPhone users have alleged that iCloud for Windows is corrupting their videos, and that it displays photos from strangers in their library.
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  1. Anonymous said on November 25, 2022 at 2:08 am

    “this could mean that the thumbnails of images and videos uploaded to the cloud are not end-to-end encrypted. That could be a serious privacy issue.”

    I don’t think that even the files themselves are end-to-end encrypted, according to Apple’s documentation, meaning in particular that Apple can see them:

    In fact, even the part of the iCloud content that is supposedly truly end-to-end encrypted has sometimes been discovered as being readable by Apple by indirect means, such as with the iCloud Messages backups ; I suspect that the note in the documentation above on that point has been added afterwards, and that as always with such companies, many other surprises are waiting.

    There is also no need to go very far for more information about how private iCloud data is, see this wikipedia quote:

    “In 2013, as part of the Snowden revelations, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported on leaked NSA documents which showed that iCloud was part of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, along with other cloud services. According to the documents, the NSA could access emails, chats, photos and videos, and stored files. The documents specifically stated that the data was collected through “equipment installed at company-controlled locations”.[54][55] The Washington Post further stated that Apple, like the other companies, was aware of the program and was a willing participant, which Apple denied”

    An EFF opinion on iCloud’s lack of end-to-end encryption, 4 year old but unfortunately apparently still relevant:

    In spite of their brainwashing campaigns on the subject, Apple is a notorious privacy nightmare, and by design. Considering the omnipresence of mobile phones and Apple’s leading role in privacy invasion in that sector, it may be one of the top worst actors of privacy destruction in the world.

  2. Jennifer Lawrence said on November 22, 2022 at 11:21 pm

    I can confirm.

  3. Tachy said on November 22, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    As always, I maintain my position that trusting a stranger with, well, anything is stupid.

    1. Frankel said on November 27, 2022 at 4:30 pm

      Haha hope you don’t have to trust a surgeon then.

    2. Tom Hawack said on November 22, 2022 at 10:24 pm

      > I maintain my position that trusting a stranger with, well, anything is stupid.

      Depends …

      “Strangers in the night exchanging glances
      Wondering in the night, what were the chances?
      We’d be sharing love before the night was through”

      Totally off-topic, I know. I couldn’t resist …

      1. Tachy said on November 23, 2022 at 6:27 am

        Actually, I believe my original comment applies to the topic of your reply as well. Perhaps more so.

  4. forthelolz said on November 22, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    Well apple has to do something to raise those GB for higher subscription rates. Backing up your OS just wasn’t enough.

    1. PhoebeGatesMusk said on November 23, 2022 at 12:17 am

      I have no sympathy for anyone who still believes in the cloud. These businesses will drain you financially while not securing your data. Before putting your images on someone else’s server, remember this warning story. Use only your local storage.

  5. John G. said on November 22, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    I have no words to describe this fiasco, how the hell is possible to show photos of other people in your own personal account protected with all the security criteria they offer? Just amazing, OMG. Thanks @Ashwin for this interesting article! :]

    1. Anonymous said on November 23, 2022 at 12:43 am

      This a bonus feature. Other cloud storages don’t have this feature y”know?

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