Robert Wiblin, a researcher at 80,000 Hours, has published a Medium post drawing attention to an aspect of sharing on Google Photos that many users may be unaware of. As demonstrated in the video above, Wiblin notes that Google Photos images and albums privately shared with a specific person can be viewed by anyone who has access to the link.

The discovery highlights a surprising design oversight by Google. A Google Photos user who privately shares an image or album with another Google user may have their image viewed repeatedly by anyone if the recipient copies and shares the link for the image or album.

Wiblin points out that the Google Photos interface doesn't indicate that by sharing the image or album privately with a specific person, the user is creating a link that provides access to anyone who receives it. This potentially leaves images vulnerable to theft, particularly if the recipient accidentally shares the link with someone else. Users can only prevent this issue by manually removing the share from the image or album.

This link generation differs from Google Drive, which allows users to make shared content accessible only to the chosen recipient(s). Google Drive users who transition to Google Photos may mistakenly believe the two services use the same sharing system, not realizing that Google Photos is generating links that can be opened by anyone.

Google has a small note revealing the sharable link's wide accessibility at the bottom of its expandable 'What happens when you share' section on the Google Photos support site. ‘Anyone that has the shared link will be able to see the album,’ the support site states, even if the share was directed to a specific recipient. Google points users to instructions on how to stop sharing content if they no longer want it visible to others.

Though Google does note the publicly accessible nature of the shared links, one could argue that the company needs to make this explicitly clear on the Google Photos interface, not simply nestled within a support page that most users are unlikely to visit. Without it, many users remain under the impression that by choosing a specific recipient for the content, the image or album is only accessible by that recipient.

Google users who need to ensure content stays just between them and the recipient should instead use Google Drive, which has more robust sharing permissions.