How to Lock Down Sensitive Photos on iPhone and Android

Sometimes you want to snap a photo that’s just for you. Maybe it’s a particularly, uh, personal selfie, or perhaps it’s the directions to a top-secret party in the woods. Tucked away among the fancier new features in iOS 16 is a small but welcome addition: biometric locks on the hidden and deleted albums. It’s a tiny thing, but it makes the hidden folder feel far safer to store photos in, and it comes closer to Android’s (still superior) Locked Folder feature. Now is a good time to get to know how both of those features work, alongside a few of the other privacy tools that Apple and Google have built into their respective photo apps.

Set up and get to know your locked and hidden folders

At a glance, locked folders on Android and hidden albums on iOS are the same. Both allow you to create a folder in which you have to authenticate with either a fingerprint or your face to see the contents.

But Android’s locked folders implementation, which should be available on most Android phones running at least Android 12, is much better than Apple’s hidden album. The reason is simple: Photos you put in your locked folder are not uploaded to Google Photos. They stay on your device.

In contrast, photos you add to the hidden folder on iOS sync along with anything else you sync to Apple Photos. That’s unfortunate for iPhone owners because if you want to keep those photos locked, you probably don’t want them online, no matter how secure the online storage allegedly is. But a locked folder is still a step up from, well, nothing.

Thankfully, in both cases, photos you include in these special folders will not show up in any of the various AI-generated memories, albums, or whatever else, so aside from storing private photos, these folders are also a good place to tuck away anything you don’t want accidentally popping up on your Apple TV screensaver, say, or in a widget on your phone’s home screen. Here’s how to set up both.

Android

Open the Google Photos app and tap Library > Utilities > Set Up Locked Folder. Follow the on-screen directions and add photos to this album. If you want to add more photos later, you can either come back to this screen or open a photo, tap the three-dot icon, and then tap Move to Locked Folder.

iPhone

The ability to lock the hidden and deleted albums should be enabled on your iPhone by default, but if it’s not turned on for some reason, go to Settings > Photos and select the Use Face (or Touch) ID option in the “Hidden and Deleted albums” section. To add photos to the hidden album, tap a photo, tap the three-dot icon, and then tap Hide.

How to get rid of (or at least tweak) memory albums

Photo apps are constantly tossing together algorithmic albums, whether it’s “Snow Days,” or “Great Outdoors,” or a photo collection of selfies. These can be a fun trip down memory lane in some cases—or they can spark a series of unwanted memories in others. You can sort of wrangle these apps to behave more to your liking or just disable these types of generated albums altogether if they weird you out.

Android

  • Hide people, pets, or dates: Open the Google Photos app and then tap your user icon, followed by Photos settings > Memories. Here, you can choose to select people or pets you don’t want showing up in memories or select specific dates you don’t want.
  • Turn off memories: From the same menu as above, tap Featured memories and disable Time-based memories or Themed memories to prevent either of those types from showing up at all.
  • Use the archive to hide photos you want to keep but don’t need to see: Google Photos has a handy archiving feature for photos you don’t want to delete and don’t need to lock behind a password but also want to keep out of the way. Select a photo, tap the three-dot icon, and then choose Archive, and that photo will no longer appear in movies or your main album.

iPhone

  • Block specific memories: Open the Photos app and navigate to the For You tab. On any memory, you can tap the three-dot icon, followed by Delete Memory, to remove this memory (this action does not delete any photos included in the album). You can also tap Feature Less… to get the option to feature the specific days or people in the album less often.
  • Block people from showing up in memories: The above method can work to block people from showing in albums, but it’s easier to navigate to the Albums tab and then scroll down to People & Places. Tap any person and then the three-dot icon, followed by Feature [person] Less. You can then choose to feature this person less in memories or never feature them.
  • Turn off memories altogether: If the whole automatic-album thing is just not for you, it’s easy to disable. Open Settings > Photos and disable Show Featured Content.

Review who you’ve shared photos with

If you’ve shared photos with family members, with friends, or publicly in the past, now is a good time to review those photos and revoke access to anything you no longer want shared.

Android

Google Photos has a lot of ways to share photos, and it’s a good idea to go back now and again to make sure you’re not sharing anything you don’t want to. Tap the Sharing tab and then remove any individual photos or albums you no longer want to share. To do so, tap the album or photo, the three-dot icon, and then Options, and disable Link sharing. If you’ve ever shared pictures with a partner before using the feature that automatically shares every photo or photos with specific faces, now is a good time to check that you still want to be doing so.

iPhone

Open the Photos app and select the Albums tab. Scroll down to Shared Albums to see what you’ve shared. You can delete the album, or you can remove specific people by tapping the three dot icon followed by Shared Album Details > [person’s name] > Remove Subscriber. Keep this same process in mind once the Shared Photo Library launches later this year, as well.

One privacy tip: Audit your photo permissions

Wrangling the photos app itself is already a part-time job, but don’t forget about the photo-related permissions that other apps have. It’s a good idea to double-check this setting on occasion to ensure that no app has access to more photos than you’d like.

  • Android: Open Settings > Privacy > Permission Manager > Photos and videos. Scroll through the list of apps and change any settings you don’t like.
  • iPhone: Open Settings > Privacy and Security > Photos and scroll through the list of apps and revoke access to any apps that don’t need it.

Other privacy news we’re watching

💸 This past month has seen data breaches and hacks galore. The most high-profile breach affected Uber, but we can’t forget about U-Haul, 2K Games, the LAUSD, American Airlines, or LastPass. As always, keep an eye on your email for any data-breach notifications, monitor your accounts, and change any passwords that might have been affected. If you can, set up two-factor authentication on any of those accounts. If you have kids who go to a school in the LAUSD (or any school hit with a ransomware attack), consider freezing their credit.

🩹Lots of patches got released this past month. Be sure to update your iPhone (even if you’re not updating to iOS 16), as Apple patched a big security flaw recently. The same goes for Android, which has a minor flaw; Google Chrome, which patched 11 vulnerabilities; and WhatsApp, which patched two issues. Microsoft Windows takes the lead on sheer numbers this month, though, after the last patch covered 64 vulnerabilities (down from 141 in August). Finally, if you have an HP laptop with HP Support Assistant installed, update that right now, as the fix addresses a high-severity issue that could provide privileged access to an attacker. This vulnerability seems to affect only older laptops, however; we noted that our Spectre x360 was already running an updated version of the software. As always, run those automatic updates as soon as possible.

🔎 Google is improving its tool that allows you to request that your personal information be removed from search. Previously, you had to jump through a series of hoops and fill out multiple forms if a result showed personal information such as your phone number or address, but soon you’ll be able to put in a request directly from the Google Search app. Even better, sometime next year you might even get alerts when that personal info pops up to begin with.

This article was edited by Jason Chen.

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