Providence, R.I.-based Alicia White was stumped this week when six photos of her and her fiance stored in her iPhone account wound up on a Connecticut-based stranger’s phone.
According to reporting from Eyewitness news, White took the photos about three weeks ago, but on Wednesday received a text from a friend with a screenshot from a Snapchat video.
“Help, does anyone know who these people are and why six pictures of them randomly appeared on my camera roll this morning?” the caption on the snap read.
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After further investigation, White realized that she and the woman from Connecticut shared a mutual friend, who saw the Snapchat story and recognized the couple.
“And then I thought, do I know her? Is she near me? Did I accidentally share photos with someone?” White told Eyewitness news. She added, “I’d really like to know why something like this could happen.”
Anna Lysyanskaya, a computer science professor at Brown University, told Eyewitness news that it’s possible a simple glitch or bug may have caused the problem.
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“This photo is known by this very very short ID, and the algorithm that computes that ID is supposed to be collision-free so that no two distinct photos end up with the same ID, but maybe they’re not collision-free. Maybe that’s a collision,” she said.
The glitch Lysyanskaya is describing would mean that the photos on White’s phone had the same ID as photos on the Connecticut-based woman’s phone.
When a photo is taken and uploaded to the cloud, they’re processed and encrypted so hackers aren’t able to access them, she said. However, Apple still maintains full access to the photos. She also notes that it’s possible the glitch had nothing to do with Apple at all, but rather with a third party app that had access to the images.
This isn’t the first time iPhone devices have experienced this problem. Posts inquiring about the issue have appeared on Apple discussion forums in the past including questions posted by Apple’s own help website itself and posts uploaded to the popular Apple news website, iMore.
“I was wondering if anyone has had other people’s photos posted to their iCloud photo stream. The other day I open my photo app and noticed another person photos in my iCloud photo stream. I thought this was weird and kinda freaky. If I’m getting other people’s photos, then someone else may be getting mine,” the post on iMore read.
A comment moderator suggested the issue could have to do with a feature called AirDrop, making it possible with someone with access to the device to “accept a few photos” from nearby people using Apple devices with AirDrop enabled.
While White still doesn’t know what caused her photos to appear on a stranger’s phone, she’s concerned that something like this could happen in the first place and is worried it might happen again with more sensitive information.
“The purpose of the cloud is for you to store your information and that’s great and that’s wonderful but it’s supposed to be secure. What if it was other information? What if it was personal, private information that was shared with other people?” White wondered aloud. “That’s not cool.”