Why Your iPhone’s Deleted Photos Have Resurfaced

The rollout of iOS 17.5 wasn’t without its hiccup, as many users found themselves facing an unsettling bug: old, deleted photos suddenly reappeared, some dating back over a decade. Although Apple has since addressed this issue with iOS 17.5.1, the mystery behind its occurrence still intrigues many.

Initially, speculation pointed towards iCloud’s photo backups as the culprit. However, Apple clarified to 9to5Mac that the glitch stemmed from a corrupted database entry within the affected devices’ file systems, rather than iCloud.

But how did this anomaly persist, especially considering the evolution of our devices over time? According to Apple, the issue could have lingered through device-to-device transfers, iCloud backups, or local device backups.

To delve deeper into the matter, security researchers at Synactiv conducted a thorough examination of the iOS 17.5.1 update, aiming to uncover the underlying changes. Their analysis revealed that iOS 17.5 introduced a migration routine responsible for rescanning and re-importing photos from the file system. Apple eliminated this routine in the subsequent update, as it seemed to trigger the re-indexing of old files and their reappearance in photo galleries.

Synactiv disclosed to The Verge that the resurfaced photos likely remained dormant within affected file systems, with the migration routine inadvertently rediscovering them. However, the researchers noted a lack of conclusive evidence regarding the initial presence of these photos.

Another plausible explanation proposed by Synactiv involves files being saved to both the Files app and the Photos app on the device. Hence, even if images were deleted solely from the Photos app, they might still persist within the device’s storage, accessible via the Files app.

While the exact cause remains uncertain—whether due to duplicate storage or a “corrupt database entry”—the issue has been rectified with the iOS 17.5.1 update. Nonetheless, users affected by the glitch will need to manually delete the reappeared photos, as the update does not automatically remove them.

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