Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Why You Shouldn't Trust Picasa To Store Your Photos

tl;dr
A while ago I uploaded this picture to Picasa:


Recently I tried to download this photo and got this back from Picasa:

WTF!

Update: I Found A Workaround!
It turns out that Google Takeaway provides the ability to download individual albums/all photos from Picasa Web. I tried downloading one of my albums which appeared corrupted through Picasa Web/Picasa for Windows and it worked! All of the photos in the album were downloaded correctly! I will probably use this to extract all of my photos and move to another cloud photos service.

Update 2: I managed to extract all my photos using Google Takeaway. 17 photos failed to download and Google Takeaway generated an error report which included links that I could use to manually download the missing photos.

Update 3: This bug appears to be fixed now.

Background
For the last two and a half years I have been uploading all of my photos to Picasa. I also have four years of even older photos which I never got round to uploading to Picasa. I always felt guilty about this as I knew I was taking a risk - that my hard drive could fail and I would lose loads of photos. I actually have multiple local hard drives with copies of the photos but what if my computer was stolen or my house burnt down?

I decided to finally sort this out and get all of my photos into the cloud. I loaded up Picasa for Windows and got it to index all of my local photos. At the end of the process it offered to tag all the faces it had detected in my photos. This sounded like it could be useful but I figured it would be even better to download my more recent photos and tag everything at the same time.

So I ran an Import to start downloading my cloud albums. The first album which downloaded was very large with 316 photos and it was immediately obvious in Picasa that some of the photos weren't loaded properly. I took a look on disk and found that 37/316 photos had been corrupted in the way shown above.

That's ~12% corruption in a single album!

Investigating The Issue
I earn a living as a software engineer so I immediately set to work trying to come up with a meaningful set of symptoms to report to Picasa. This is what I found:
  • The corruption is probably just a truncation:
    • Every corrupted file was very close to (but not exactly) 2MB.
    • The missing data was always at the "bottom" of the image.
  • The original file data is probably not lost:
    • I can actually download uncorrupted individual files using Web Albums on my iPhone. I don't think these are coming from a local cache but I'm not certain.
  • The corruption isn't random:
    • The same files in an album are always truncated when downloaded.
  • It isn't related to the image contents:
    • If I re-upload an uncorrupted image (extracted using my iPhone) then it can be downloaded again without corruption.
  • Picasa might be doing some kind of backend migration:
    • I saw two filename formats within my albums:
      • IMAGE_[0-9]+.jpeg (e.g. IMAGE_141.jpeg)
      • IMAGE_[0-9A-Z]+-[0-9A-Z]+-[0-9A-Z]+-[0-9A-Z]+-[0-9A-Z]+.JPG (e.g. IMAGE_520FFAF1-2FF7-4199-82F4-5A88F5BA8076.JPG)
    • All of the corrupted images have the second filename format.
  • The corruption occurs regardless of whether I download using Picasa for Windows or Picasa Web (tested in IE/Chrome/Firefox).
Reporting The Issue
Time to report the issue! I headed over to Picasa support and took a look at my options which turn out to be pretty limited:
  • Picasa Google Groups - user-to-user support
  • Google+ Feedback - "Although we're not able to personally reply to you, we'll use your feedback to help us continue to improve the Google+ experience."
In other words there is no real way to raise an issue and get a reply.

My issue is with Picasa and not Google+ so I decided to try out the Picasa Google Group but got no reply.

What Now?
Frankly, I am hoping that writing this blog post might get the issue some attention. I am also curious to find out whether anyone else has hit this issue. Maybe I'm the only one?

It seems to me that the Google support model only works when every issue affects enough users to show up in some kind of top level metrics. If Google have really lost a load of my photos I will be really upset but maybe Google doesn't care if there really is only one of me.

The Competition
This issue has made me revisit my decision to use Picasa. The world of cloud photos has moved on in the last few years and maybe I would be better served by another service.

I currently pay Google $5/year on a grandfathered storage plan to get an extra 20GB/year for a total of 36GB. The cheapest up to date plan seems to be 100GB for $5/month.

I took a look at Flickr today and their service offering sounds pretty good - 1TB of storage for free in exchange for seeing some ads on their site sounds great. If I don't want ads I have to pay $50/year which is still cheaper than the cheapest Google plan. They even have a form where you can submit a message and they say they will actually send you an answer!

2 comments:

  1. So there was a bug in the download process in picasa. All your photos are safe and sound. Seems safe to me.

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    Replies
    1. My photos do seem to be safe but hitting this bug wasn't exactly reassuring.

      I am glad that Google Takeaway made it possible to get my photos out but it is pretty bad that it was necessary to use a totally different system to get my data out.

      I am also annoyed that there was no mechanism to actually report this issue properly. It would be more convenient to continue using Picasa but I can't sensibly do that while this bug remains unfixed and access to my photos relies on a separate service which happens to avoid the current bug.

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