Are There Worthy Alternatives to iCloud Photos? Probably Not

Don't like Apple's new iCloud snooping? We have some bad news

Key Takeaways

  • In iOS 15, the iPhone will attempt to match your photos with known CSAM images on upload to iCloud Photo Library.
  • There are no alternatives that integrate so well with iOS and the Mac.
  • PhotoSync lets you keep using your existing photo library.
pictures of kids hanging from a line of string

Raj Rana / Unsplash

Regardless of your opinion on Apple’s new iCloud Photo Library snooping feature, you may be looking for a new way to store, sync, and organize your photos. We have good news and bad news. 

iCloud Photo Library is one of the best things Apple makes. You take a photo on your iPhone, and it shows up almost instantly on your Mac and iPad. All your edits sync, and are undoable from anywhere. It’s fast, reliable, and until now, enjoyed excellent privacy.

In iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, your Apple device will process its own local images before uploading to iCloud Photo Library to see if they match known child sexual abuse material (CSAM). What happens next is beyond the scope of this article. We’re here to see if there are any viable alternatives that offer the convenience and former privacy of iCloud Photo Library. 

"[We] are already seeing increasing interest from people managing their own photos/video storage on a NAS or self hosting AI-based photo solutions," Hendrik Holtmann of iOS and Mac sync app PhotoSync, told Lifewire via email. "The scanning of messages and photo libraries being part of the ‘child safety features’ announced for iOS 15 will most likely increase privacy awareness among users."

Cloud Sync

The short answer is "No." iCloud Photo Library is so deeply integrated into Apple products that no third-party option can get close.

You can use something like Dropbox or Google Photos, which are reliable, fast, and offer pretty good integration with Mac and iOS. But if you came for privacy, look elsewhere. Pretty much all cloud storage providers can and will scan your images to offer extras like people-recognition and more.

Siri on iPhone explaining how to report CSAM or child exploitation

Apple

"For a small company building/scaling the backend for such a service, there are some obstacles in iOS itself," says Holtmann. "The iCloud Photo Library integrates on a deeper level into the system than a third-party app can do with the current APIs offered by iOS."

Another option is to encrypt your photos locally, then upload them.

"Encrypting files prior to upload works with any cloud storage service such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox," Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech, told Lifewire via email. "Both of these solutions are more private, but less convenient, so I'm skeptical that they'll see mainstream adoption."

Local Sync

The third way is to sync your photos between your devices yourself. One great option for this is PhotoSync, which has the advantage of integrating with your existing device photo library. 

This is great, because the built-in Photos app remains private, for now. It only scans your photo and sends the results to Apple if you use it with iCloud Photo Library. It’s the best of both worlds. The privacy of the no-cloud offline option, and (most of) the convenience of the built-in photo library. 

PhotoSync on iPhone

PhotoSync

Using PhotoSync, you can take photos on your iPhone and have them sync to your Mac when you’re at home. It’s not nearly as convenient as iCloud Photo Library, but it’s fast, private, and works wirelessly. It sends photos from your iPhone’s camera roll to your Mac, and adds them to your photo library on your Mac. PhotoSync also works with Android and Windows, and with PhotoPrism, which is a server that runs on your computer, it’s kind of like your own personal iCloud Photo Library. 

Another option is to use the Mac’s built-in sync. This syncs images from your Mac to your iPhone, via iTunes or the Finder, but again, it’s far from ideal, as the sync is one-way, like putting songs onto an iPod. You’ll also lose proper sync of Live Photos, and edits won’t sync back from your iPhone. 

Spoiled

The bottom line is that iCloud Photo Library is unrivaled if you use Apple hardware. It’s so good, and so reliable, that we’ve been spoiled. And since it was introduced, other options have withered until there really aren’t many alternatives—especially if your reason for leaving iCloud is privacy. 

We’re left with the old security/convenience tradeoff. If you value the privacy of your photos, then you’re going to have to give up some of the niceties of iCloud sync. That sucks, but when even Apple is acting out, there’s little choice.

Was this page helpful?