Sometime recently I started getting nag notices from my various devices telling me that I had maxed out my iCloud storage, which seemed odd to me, since I hadn’t ever activated iCloud Photos and strictly limited my use of iCloud services for pictures and so forth to My Photo Stream and to some shared albums which appeared to total less than 1gb of posted data.

I diligently went in and thinned out the shared albums anyway, grumbling about the intentional one-way door that Apple has designed into their obtuse and inflexible shared album system. One cannot simply turn sharing on and off for local albums; one must create a separate shared album instead and one cannot convert a shared album to a local album, one can only delete it. Which sucks.

After working on this for several days and still receiving these nag memos, I wondered if perhaps the deleted shared albums were stashed in an iCloud trash directory someplace. It’s an annoyance I have run into on the iPhone from time to time. When your storage on the device is nearly full, the fastest way to gain space back is to delete local copies of images. However, in Apple’s truly terrible iOS Photos product, the deleted images go to a hidden area of Photos for 30 days before being deleted on a timed basis. If you want to force delete a raft of pix, you have to find this hidden trash and then manually select each picture one at a time or by sweeping across as many as you can, which can be a real pain in the ass if you are trying to delete thousands of images.

This strategy is part of Apple’s use of dark patterns, the intentional deployment of user-interface elements that increase annoyance on the part of the user. By filling up your phone and not making it easy to delete, Apple is clearly encouraging you to move on from your puny old iPhone to the new shiny larger-capacity model. Likewise, in iCloud, making it hard to remove items from cloud storage forces the user into an upgrade cycle. The fuckers, I hate them so very very much.

So when I went to look at my Photos storage via the iCloud website I was really taken aback to a) not see My Photo Stream b) not see *any* of my Shared Albums, and c) most flabbergastingly, EVERYTHING from my master Photos library going back to 2001, but without ANY of the album-based organization that is present in the master.

I don’t know how, but sometime in the last six months of new phones and restored iPads and what all I seem to have missed the OFF switch on one device’s iCloud Photos settings and that appears to have overridden the settings for ALL the devices; so the next time I left the machine with the master Photos library turned on and connected to the internet for a couple of days, my entire Photos library was uploaded to iCloud without my realizing it. I’m still not sure which machine it was that I fumbled the setting on. It would be most logical that it was on the same machine that the library sits on but it would be equally logical that this is another dark pattern from Apple.

Anyway, at least I had found the source of the nagging. No problem, I thought. I’ll just delete all that shit from iCloud, I know the images are not on any other devices and I have a backup of the library and the settings on this computer already have been verified to be that strict subset of cloud services for Photos.

So in looking up how Apple permits people to delete photos from iCloud, I learned, unsurprisingly, that they make it very hard. I ended up performing the deletions via the iCloud Photos website. There were approximately 11,000 images and movies to nuke.

First, the iCloud Photos site restricts user-initiated deletion requests to a maximum of 1,000 items per deletion request. Second, ‘deletion’ actually, you guessed it, moves the images to a Trash album called “recently deleted”, where the files remain for thirty days unless one manually deletes them *again*. Third, rather than accepting and queuing the file management requests for final execution, the browser will not let you initiate a new deletion request until the server side file management actions have been completed. A 1,000 image deletion request can take several minutes to complete. Fourth, in order to select your mandated 1,000 images, one must manually select an image, page down as many screens as the user thinks will maximize the chance of extending the selection to 1,000 images or so, and shift-select at random until the magic number is achieved. At least they display the selection count.

So of course I opened ten browser windows and shift selected continuous chunks of 1,000 images, one batch per browser window, and initiated the deletion request. 30 minutes later I was still fighting browser freeze-ups and similar issues but I did finally get my target number of files into the recently deleted album.

Opening that album I noticed a helpful-looking button (well, really a link, but whatever) which said “Delete All”. OK!


Nothing, no progress bar, no warning that Photos limits deletions to 1,000 images at a time, nada. Cursing the names of Steve and Jony, I re-initiated the manual-selection-in-batches-of-about-1k process and eventually got it done.

Long story short, it took about 3 hours to finally diagnose the basis of the iCloud storage nag and to manually delete the wayward fileset. I still need to step though each device to ascertain that the iCloud settings are what I wish them to be. I suppose I should also examine the master Photos library to be sure the cold, bony hand of Steve hasn’t swept my last 20 years of pixels away completely.

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