Google Photos is an incredibly powerful platform that makes your archive of photos and videos searchable and easily accessible anywhere you have internet. Since all files sit on Google servers, you have to trust the company to do its due diligence to protect your data, but it looks like a mishap occurred last November. Google has started sending out emails informing some users that during a short period, some backed up videos were accidentally added to other people's Google Takeout archives.
Twitter user Jon Oberheide has shared Google's email on the issue. The company is sparse on details and hides the privacy breach in the second bullet point, but lets recipients know that only people who have exported their full Photos data between November 21 and November 25, 2019 are affected by the problem. In this time frame, some videos have been swapped and ended up in the wrong archives, leaving anyone impacted with strangers' videos and vice versa.
— Jon Oberheide (@jonoberheide) February 4, 2020
No matter what kind of videos you store on Google Photos, you might be very distressed when you receive this email — and rightfully so. Since the export has already reached other people's devices, there's nothing you or Google can do to undo the mistake and revoke access to the downloaded files. That's why Google recommends every email recipient to delete their affected archives and redo the export. It's a weak, trust-based solution, but the only one the company can offer, which goes to show that anytime you give up control over your data, you can be exposed to technical problems without ever having to be attacked by hackers.
In a statement provided to 9to5Google, the search company said less than 0.01% of people attempting to download their data during the technical issue were affected. Due to Google's sheer insurmountable user base, that could still mean thousands were impacted.
The case could also end up at courts, as GDRP and similar regulations force companies to disclose personal data breaches "without undue delay" — since the mishap was fixed on November 25, the three months waiting period here is an absolute stretch. Google should've acted much faster and communicated the problem better. The way the company structured its email makes you think it tried to bury and downplay the privacy breach, hiding the leaked videos in the middle of the message.
You're going to have to trust that whoever got your videos will go out of their way to do the right thing, and you should absolutely follow Google's recommendation, too, if you have received the email. Hopefully, Google follows up with details, telling each individual user which videos exactly have gone missing.
Alternate Title: Google played mix-and-match while archiving your videos, click to see what you got!