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How to Keep Your Private Photos Hidden Online

A Mac laptop and cell phone laying on a desk.

Maintaining privacy and securing our data have become paramount as we navigate through the digital age. This is especially true for the images and files that we store on our devices or cloud services, like Google Photos and Apple Photos on our iPhones.

Whether intentional or not, snooping can happen.

You might lend your phone to a friend to browse through your holiday photos, and they might accidentally stumble onto something private.

Or, a curious child might open apps and view files they aren’t supposed to.

Or, if your phone ends up lost or in the wrong hands, having your sensitive information hidden adds a layer of security.

I’ve created this article to provide you with quick and easy steps you can take now to keep your private photos or sensitive files securely hidden if you're an Apple or Google Photos user.

Keep Your Private Photos Hidden With Google Photos

Google Photos is a versatile and convenient platform that offers an array of functionalities, including file storage and sharing. If you use Google Photos, here is how you can simply keep your files private:

1. Archive Photos: This is a feature that Google Photos provides for pictures you might not want to delete, but would also rather not see in your main photos library. To archive a photo, select it, then tap on the three-dot menu icon on the top right and select “Move to Archive.” These pictures will no longer appear in your regular photo grid but are accessible via the “Archive” option in the main menu. They can also be found using the search function.

A preview of an expanded photo with 'Archive' selected in Google Photos.
A preview of the 'Archive' page in Google Photos.

2. Locked Folder: Google recently introduced a new feature, Locked Folder, which secures your sensitive photos and videos behind a passcode or biometric authentication method, such as fingerprint ID. You can move files to this folder via the same three-dot menu as mentioned above.

If you aren't seeing the Locked Folder option appear, you might still need to enable the feature in your account. To do so, you must go and to Library > Utilities > Locked Folder, and then follow the prompts to set up.

Photos in the Locked Folder won’t be backed up to Google’s servers and can’t be accessed across other devices, which makes it ideal for sensitive data.

You can access photos you’ve moved to the Locked Folder in the Google Photos app under Library > Utilities.

Keep in mind, this feature is only available on Android devices.

A laptop showing a family's photo collection in Google Photos.

3. Adjust Sharing Settings: You can also maintain privacy by being selective about who you allow to see your photos. Google Photos lets you control this by adjusting the sharing settings of individual albums. You can adjust the visibility of your photos by selecting the album, choosing the sharing options, and picking the persons(s) or group(s) you would like to share the photos or album.

Keep Your Private Photos Hidden With Apple Photos

A photo management system with similar features to Google Photos, Apple’s Photos app also provides several methods to keep your photos and videos private:

Photos settings on iPhone.

1. Hidden Albums: To hide a photo or video on iPhone or iPad, tap on the More button (three-dot menu), and select the “Hide” option. The media will move to a Hidden album, which is accessible by navigating to Albums, and then scrolling down to the Utilities section. Touch or FaceID can be required to access the photos within this album, as long as biometric authentication is enabled (Settings > Photos > Toggle "Use Face ID").

You can hide the Hidden album itself from appearing under the Utilities section by going to Settings > Photos > Show Hidden Album > Toggle Off.

On a Mac, open the Photos app and select the photo or video you want to hide. Control-click the photo, then select Hide Photo. Or, from the top menu bar choose Image > Hide Photo.

If you use iCloud, the photos that you hide on one device are hidden on your other devices too. If you need to access these photos again, the Hidden tab can be found in the left-hand menu bar under the Photos section.

A preview of the 'Hidden' album in Apple Photos desktop app.

2. Use Third-Party Apps: There are various third-party apps available on the App Store that provide extra layers of security, including passcodes and biometric authentication, to safeguard your photos and videos. A few examples of such apps are KeepSafe, Secret Photo Vault, and Private Photo Vault.

3. Use Notes App: Interestingly, you can store confidential images using the iPhone’s Notes app. Create a new note, add the desired image, and then tap on the three-dot menu option to lock the note with a password, FaceID, or TouchID.

4. Shared Album Settings: If you’re using iCloud Shared Albums to share your photos with others, remember to control who can access them. Go to the Shared Album you want to secure, tap on the “People” icon at the top of the screen, and adjust who can view your photos according to your preference.

Only the creator of the Shared Album will be able to add or remove subscribers, so it's important you only add photos you're comfortable with every other subscriber having access to.

If you're not the owner of a Shared Album and decide you no longer wish for the members of the album to have access to your images, you'll have to manually go in and delete any photos you've added to the album. To remove yourself as a member, go to the album, tap on the “People” icon at the top of the screen, and click "unsubscribe."

Keep in mind, in order to use Shared Albums, this feature must be enabled in Settings (Settings > Photos > toggle "Shared Albums").

Final Thoughts on Keeping Your Private Photos Files Private

With the majority using cloud storage these days, it seems like much of our sensitive data can fall into the wrong hands at any point without proper protection measures in place.

While these simple steps can help keep your private files hidden, they are not 100% foolproof. They may do the trick of protecting your data from casual snoopers, but might not withstand dedicated hackers.

If you’re interested in going beyond these steps to protect the security of your sensitive photos and information, but you don’t know where to start, consider enlisting the help of a trained digital organizing professional who can work with you to set up the best privacy settings for your needs.

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