Apple clarifies iOS 17.5 bug that exposed deleted photos

Enlarge / iPadOS 17.5.1 ready to install on an iPad Pro.

Samuel Axon

On May 20, Apple released iOS 17.5.1 to fix a bug that users had encountered a few days earlier in iOS 17.5 that caused old photos that had previously been deleted to resurface. So far, the update appears to have resolved the issue, but users were wondering exactly what had happened. Now Apple has clarified the issue a bit, describing the nature of the error to 9to5Mac.

Apple told the publication that the photos were not regurgitated from iCloud Photos after being deleted on the local device; rather, they were local to the device. Apple says they were not left in the cloud after deletion or synced to it afterwards, and that the company did not have access to the deleted photos.

Photos were retained on local device storage due to a database corruption issue, and the error resurfaced on photos that were marked for deletion but were not actually fully deleted locally.

That simple explanation doesn’t fully cover all of the widely reported edge cases that some users had mentioned on forums and on Reddit, but Apple also offered additional answers for them.

The company stated that when users reported that photos reappeared on a device other than the one on which they were originally deleted, it was always because they had restored from a backup other than iCloud Photos or had performed a direct transfer from one device to other.

A Reddit user claimed (the post has now been deleted) that he had wiped out an iPad, sold it to a friend, and then the friend saw the photos resurface. Apple told 9to5Mac that’s impossible if the user followed the expected procedure to wipe the device, which is to go to “Settings,” “General,” “Transfer and reset,” and “Erase all content and settings.”

The bug was particularly unpleasant in terms of optics and user trust for Apple, but it would have been much worse if it was related to iCloud and involved deleted photos remaining or being uploaded to Apple’s servers. If what the company told 9to5Mac is true, it wasn’t.

Still, it’s a good reminder that in many cases a deleted file isn’t necessarily deleted, whether due to a bug like this, the nature of the storage technology, or, in some other cases, on other platforms, a deliberate choice.

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