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Look Out for “Water Stained” Images When Accessing Google Photos

A photo showing Google Photos on an Android smartphone

Watch out for any photos that appear “waterlogged.”
Photo: Sam Rutherford / Gizmodo

Seeing corrupted photos in your Google Photos library? This has become a “trending” issue on the Google support pages in recent days. Fortunately, Google knows about it and plans to dole out a fix.

It started with a Google Photos support thread that cropped up over the weekend from a user complaining about “water-stained” photos. “Issue looks like a water stain with massive discoloration,” they wrote. They continue to describe the problem in a follow-up reply to the thread:

Most of the photos are from around 2014. These are pictures I know for a fact were uploaded and saved properly. I noticed the issue today in a photos flashback event. I have tried viewing on multiple browsers as well as downloading the photos into local memory. There is seemingly no pattern to which photos are corrupted and which aren’t.

Eventually, more users chimed in with their experience of seeing corrupted images on Google Photos. “Confirming I also have this issue, was looking for some old photos of family and noticed this on almost all of them,” writes another user, who posted additional sample photos. Further down the thread, a Google support “Diamond Product Expert” posts over a dozen links describing similar effects.

“Just been looking through anniversary photos, on Google photos, from 8 years ago and many images are shown as corrupted,” writes a user in another thread. The virtually waterlogged photos started appearing on Reddit and in various Google-related sub-Reddits, too.

For funsies, I tried downloading a handful of images from 2014 that I long ago uploaded to Google Photos. I could not recreate the corruption that other users described—or perhaps I don’t recognize it because the smartphone I used back then was already pretty low-resolution. But there are plenty of examples in the various Google Support and Reddit threads that show there is an issue plaguing folks.

Google responded when I asked if the issue was on its radar by confirming that it is aware of the problem and is “rolling out a fix.” This bug does not impact original photos stored in Google Photos, though you might encounter it when downloading images or viewing them on iOS, Android, and the browser. I asked Google for follow-up information on what might be going wrong on the technical side, but there was nothing additional to share.

Either way, this is a cautionary tale of what can transpire when we rely on the cloud and other services to archive our data. I have multiple backups of my digital images on hard drives and in the cloud dating back to 2010, when I first adopted a smartphone. I strongly suggest that if you’re not in the habit of doing this, you start as soon as possible.

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