Is This Normal? Strangers’ photos on your iPhone

strangers photos on your iphone

Get answers to those head-scratching “Is This Normal?” tech questions in this series.

The Scenario

Imagine you are walking around the mall or a park and you want to share a picture with someone. You open your photos gallery, select the image you want to share, and then tap the share button. Share options pop-up… Send as Email, iMessage, Add to Notes, etc.

Suddenly, there are several strangers’ photos on your iPhone. “Who are these people? Why are they showing up on my iPhone?”

Meet AirDrop

iphone receiving airdrop

To understand what is happening, let me talk to you about AirDrop. It’s one of the coolest features that come with all Apple devices (sorry Android fans). The feature was released back in 2011 as a way to share things between two nearby Apple devices. It uses Bluetooth and/or WiFi to detect nearby AirDrop-enabled devices and securely establish a transfer connection. 

The feature was developed as a way to share without the need to send cumbersome emails with attachments or clutter up your text or iMessages. It doesn’t require the internet and it’s not just for photos, you can send, contacts, notes, and more.. Plus, it is much faster to send through AirDrop, especially for larger files like video (e.g., a 10-minute video share takes less than 15 seconds).

It also helps that Apple designed AirDrop to be super simple and quick to use. The files will save in the same app they were sent in (so Photos will go automatically to Photos, Notes will go to Notes, etc), which makes this process so much faster and power/data-saving than texting or emailing files one at a time.

Tame Those Settings

AirDrop has three main settings that controls when (or if) your device can appear on other people’s devices near you:

  • Setting #1: Receiving Off – No one’s Apple device will see you as an option for sharing using AirDrop. It’s called “Receiving Off” because in order to receive anything from someone, your device would need to appear as a choice on their device.
  • Setting #2: Contacts Only – Your device will appear as an AirDrop option for nearby people who have an Apple device and are in your Contacts/Address Book.
  • Setting #3: Everyone – Your device will appear as an AirDrop option for anyone who is near you and has an Apple Device.

Yes, Seeing Strangers’ Photos On Your iPhone is Normal

AirDrop does not always perform flawlessly. When people become impatient with AirDrop or are struggling to make it work, they will set their AirDrop settings to the least restrictive mode (Everyone). Once they receive their shared files, their attention shifts and they forget about their public AirDrop settings. With all of those Apple devices set on “Everyone” AirDrop settings, you are bound to see them as an AirDrop sharing option when they are nearby. So it is completely normal to see random strangers’ faces pop up on your phone’s sharing options when you are in a public area.

Configuring and Using AirDrop

Even though it’s been around for years, for many it is an undiscovered gem. If you are one of them, here are the basics of using AirDrop.

iphone with sharing center open

To share something using AirDrop

  1. Make sure you have both Bluetooth and Wifi on. AirDrop uses these two features together.
  2. Find something you want to share. Then, tap it (or tap Select for multiple files)
  3. Tap the option to Share (sometimes an icon that looks like a rectangle with an arrow coming out of it).
  4. On the Sharing Options screen, you may see a section with contact photos of people nearby with AirDrop receiving. Or, you may simply see the AirDrop icon, which you can tap to see who is available nearby. In either case, you simply tap the photo of the person you want to AirDrop to and the files are sent.

It is important to note that just because people can send you a file, that doesn’t mean your phone will automatically accept it. You will get a request (like the very first screenshot in this article) and it is up to you if you want to Decline or Accept the file.

To adjust your Airdrop settings that decide who can see you:

  1. Go to the Control Center. If you have an iPhone 8 or older device, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. If you have an iPhone X, swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen. (See Screenshot 3)
  2. Force press* (or hold down) the Bluetooth button to reveal additional options. The Bluetooth button is the right of the two blue buttons. *A force press is applying extra pressure to the screen and holding down when you tap on the icon.
  3. Amongst those additional options is AirDrop. If the feature is on, you will see a blue icon with the mode description underneath. My example is shows AirDrop is on and is set to “Contacts Only.” (See Screenshot 4)
  4. To change AirDropsettings or turn it off, tap on the AirDrop button. A list of options will show up. Tap on the mode that you want to set AirDrop in.(See Screenshot 5)
iphone control center
Hold Down Bluetooth Icon On iPhone To Open Connection Settings
AirDrop Receiving Options Screen

Using AirDrop on a Mac

AirDrop is not just for iPhones. It can be used across multiple devices! Here is what it looks like on a Mac. Open up the Finder and select AirDrop in the left-hand bar. You can also hit “Command + Space Bar” to bring up Spotlight Search and search the word “AirDrop.”

airdrop on a mac

Another fun aspect of AirDrop is that you can send files to yourself between your own devices! Each device will show up in AirDrop separately, so if there is a cool image you saved on your MacBook that you want to see on your iPhone, then you can simply Airdrop away. So in this case, there may not be strangers photos on your iPhone, but it is still useful for having multiple devices!

Check out our blog to read more posts from the SWAT Systems experts!

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