Can Apps Steal My Photos On iPhone?

Many apps require access to your iPhone to be able to display a selection of photos to choose from in the app in order to perform a certain action with them. Examples include image editing apps, Instagram, Snapchat etc. 

Because they have access to your photo gallery, apps could in theory copy and “steal” your photos. However doing so would be illegal and not in the interest of most apps. Therefore, the vast majority would not take the risk. That said, there is still a possibility some apps will. 

There are a few indicators that an app is out to steal your data. Keep reading to learn more about them and how to best protect yourself. 

See also: Why Is Apple Taking Money From My Account?

Why do iPhone apps need access to photos?

Each app on your iPhone is essentially placed in a “Sandbox”. This means that each app is isolated from all other apps and basically all of your data, for protection and privacy purposes. 

Therefore, if an app requires access to your photos, it should be because it’s necessary for the services it provides. You can’t edit a picture in VSCO or similar without granting the app access to your gallery. The app must first obtain permission to do so. 

That said, some apps seek access to your data for other reasons e.g. to gather data for marketing purposes. 

You should therefore take each app individually and decide whether the access is necessary and whether you trust the app. 

How to determine if an app might steal my photos on iPhone

1. Consider the service the app is providing

Are photos a part of the function of the app? If not, there’s no reason to grant the app access to your photos

2. Is the app using up a lot of the battery?

Stealing your photos requires a lot of battery usage, so keep this in mind and check battery usage by going to Settings > Battery 

3. Check the app’s privacy policy

Does it specifically say it won’t grab any of your photos?

4. Research the legitimacy of the app

Check if you have any reason for doubt. Search for the name of the company with keywords such as “data breach” or “data scandal”. Each year there are companies and app providers exposed for data breach scandals. 

5. Download apps only from official app stores

Only get your apps from Apple store or Google Play Store. Even apps from those stores should be examined carefully, but they are more likely to have gone through strict vetting procedures and safety measures. 

6. What do apps know?

Keep in mind that when you provide access to your photos, the app will also be able to see the location of your photo (if your location services are on) and the date & time stamp as these are embedded in the photo.

Therefore, an app could for example know that you were in a certain restaurant at a specific time and use that information for various purposes (marketing etc.)

How can I see which apps have access to my photos?

To see which apps have access to your photos, go to Settings > Privacy > Photos. 

Do apps have to have access to all photos in my phone?

As part of a recent update (iOS 14), Apple introduced the option to allow apps to have access to a limited selection of your photos. Previous to that, you could only allow all or no access. 

This can be a good alternative for maintaining your privacy, whilst also reaping the benefits various apps provide. 

To see what sort of access each app has and change it, go to Settings > Privacy > Photos. For each app, you will see the following 3 options. 

See also: Why does Zedge need access to my photos?

App can’t access my photos even though I granted access

If you have gone to Settings > Privacy > Photos and the app in question is still acting as if it does not have access to your photo gallery, then do the following: 

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Photos > Select “Allow changes”
  2. Go to the app in question and try to access your photos again, for example if it’s Instagram, try to post a picture
  3. You should be given the choice to grant access to photos again 

Now you should be able to edit the access privileges in your Settings if you change your mind.

Does Instagram own my photos?

Instagram does not own the pictures you have posted. If you take a picture of something and post it on Instagram, you own the copyright to it. 

However, by posting the picture, you give Instagram permission to use the picture if they choose to. Essentially, through the terms and conditions, you grant Instagram a license to use your content for free, wherever and whenever they want to.

Does Instagram collect my data even if I deleted it?

Instagram’s terms and conditions explicitly state that they collect all the information you give them about yourself. 

This is a sentence pulled up from the terms and conditions: “We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products.”

As for deleted data (photos and messages), Instagram’s policy states that it takes the company 90 days to remove your data. After that, it should be gone.

Can someone access my iPhone photos without permission?

If your photos are stored using iCloud, then it is possible that someone might hack into your iCloud account and access your data, including photos. 

The best way to protect yourself is to make sure that your iCloud account is very hard to hack into. 

See also: Can I Use iCloud And OneDrive At The Same Time?

Tips for keeping your photos safe on iCloud

Here are two important tips to prevent your photos from being stolen:

1. Use the Password Manager on your iPhone

The Password Manager stores your passwords safely and is a useful tool for storing difficult and strong passwords. The best passwords are random strings of characters and numbers. The password manager can generate one for you as well. 

If you want to create your password yourself, aim to have at least 14 characters and avoid using personal information such as family birthdays, pet names etc. Instead aim for a random string of words that have nothing to do with each other. 

By having a unique, strong password for each of your accounts, you minimise the chance of hackers gaining access to your data.

Your password manager can also be protected using Face ID, making it even safer.  To set it up, go to Settings > Passwords.

2. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

This is essentially like getting a two lock door. When someone tries to access your iCloud account e.g. to steal your photos, a code is sent to your iPhone or iPad in order to make sure that it is you, the owner, trying to gain access.

To set up Two-Factor Authentication, go to Settings > Apple ID > Password & Security > Turn on ”Two-Factor Authentication”

See also: Can I Delete Photos From One Device Only On iPhone?