iCloud is spooky

Another "adventure" with cloud services

I somehow ended up using an iPhone for my entire "smartphone life", even if I dislike a lot of things apple does, but I got used to the overall UX, found workarounds for things that do not work as easily on such a locked down OS and I like their update policy (my current SE-2 is the second smartphone I have ever owned).

What I always distanced myself from was iCloud, I am not a fan of cloud services in general, but for me, in contrast to other cloud services iCloud also has this extra layer of non-transparency on top of it, disguised as "user friendliness", so out of pure fear of data loss and unwanted side effects the iCloud slider is turned off on every device I own.

iCloud Turned off for nearly all apps

Time passed and I bought a used iPad for my grandparents, just for the sake to share photos over Nextcloud and chat with them. The device obviously got wiped by the previous owners. I created a new iCloud account for them and activated cloud storage only for a subset of apps because they don't have a pc for storing local backups. A soon as I found out that apple offers some kind of family program to share bought apps and subscriptions I connected it to my Account, so I could use some paid apps I like there too.

The next day I spent some time setting up a Nextcloud for them, and accidentally opened the (iOS) photos app. To my surprise it was full of private photos from a colleague. I had no Idea how this could happen, I've never seen these photos before and he never shared them with me in any way. I quickly rang him and explained the situation, he was also clueless and hat no plan how this could happen, it was also a very small subset of images of his private iCloud account with no real pattern why these specific photos were taken.

The Photos-App also had nothing to analyse where the photos came from, no log, no folder paths, no notifications, nothing, for the end-user they just "appeared" out of nowhere. Also with iCloud disabled for photos it made everything even more confusing.

I did some research and remembered that three years ago my colleague borrowed me his old iPhone so that I could use it as a modem for Freenet-funk, where I had to log into my iCloud Account to download the Freenet-funk app. He did not wipe his phone and his local phone settings seemed to overwrite my account-settings to not use iCloud. So as soon as I logged in to his phone the photos app started to sync all of his private photos that were locally accessible to my account, without a notification, progress bar or whatsoever.

As I logged in to my iCloud Web-Account I could confirm it: For over 3 years without me noticing, about 250 private photos that are not mine were laying in my iCloud account, and they never got transferred to any of my devices because syncing was turned off. By enabling family sharing, about 60 of these 250 Photos were transferred to the iPad. Til now I have multiple questions:

  • Why does Apple also shares private photos with family members without explicitly telling me?
  • Why does it happen when iCloud syncing is explicitly turned off inside settings?
  • Why only a subset of image got downloaded, even if I wanted all that to happen, my iPad would have been in an inconsistent state without me getting notified

Personally I think that nobody expects such behaviour, even tech savvy people like my colleague or me. We weren't notified about what iCloud did do to our data, and the "state" in which I found the mess wasn't even consistent, and personally, even if this is an "expected" feature, I do not want to blindly, or per DEFAULT, share ALL my photos I have on iCloud to my family members, especially if I turned off syncing photos in the first place.

For me it was just another reminder to keep this slider turned off forever.


  • Random Photos appear out of nowhere to an iPad I bought with iCloud storage turned off for the photos app
  • Photos were synced from my main accounts iCloud storage after enabling family sharing to my grandparents account
  • Everything happened in the background without a notification or progress bar indicator
  • The Photos got there because I used an "un-wiped" iPhone from a colleague some time ago with iCloud Syncing enabled, that switch kept turned on after switching accounts.
  • I never received these photos on my devices because I had iCloud turned off