Camera apps and data protection
By Ryan Shaw
Camera apps are incredibly helpful tools to use with your camera, but how much of your personal data do they pass on? We investigate.
For some time, camera manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon and Sony have been providing dedicated apps for use with your camera. These apps are designed to enhance how you use your camera, for example, by controlling your camera remotely or by automatically backing up photos and videos to your phone or tablet.
However, by using these apps, you're surrendering a lot of information to the parent company that may not be relevant. For example, location details of where you snapped a photo, or the name and password of any wi-fi networks you’re connected to.
So what happens to the information that the camera apps gather, and how secure is your data? We set out to investigate.
In summary, most of the camera apps we tested present no privacy or security issues. That said, we did find some evidence of unnecessary data gathering by Sony and Yi Technology, where data such as location, camera identification and wi-fi network name and password details were captured without user permission.
Also, apps from Fujifilm, Nikon and Olympus have fewer critical issues but still give cause for concern. The apps Fujifilm Camera Remote (Android), Nikon SnapBridge (iOS) and Olympus Image Share all reveal the location of the user. This level of tracking is incredibly invasive, as it can be used to identify where you are and the frequency of your movements.
Compact camera reviews – read our in-depth verdicts to find your perfect model.
You can see full results of our tests in the tables below. Underneath, we explain the results for each brand's app. Our overall ratings are based on data transmission behaviour; a 'critical' rating is based on any data transmission without your knowledge, and a 'non-critical' rating is where no data is being transferred.
Canon Camera Connect App
A specialist digital camera brand with a wide range of cameras and lenses available, Canon's apps performed well in our tests. For both the Android and iOS versions of the Canon Camera Connect App, we found that no personal data was captured and transmitted back to Canon.
Fujifilm Camera Remote
Fujifilm is a high street brand that previously enjoyed a large market share in cameras. Its apps are a bit of a mixed bag, depending on the type of mobile device you're using. With the iOS version of Fujifilm Camera Remote we encountered no issues with data privacy. But if you're using the Android version, your location details are sent back to Fujifilm.
Founded in 1917 and one of the most recognisable camera brands, Nikon has an extensive range of cameras and lenses for all types of photography. With the Nikon SnapBridge app, we uncovered mixed results depending on the mobile operating system. For example, we didn't see any problems with the Android version, but the iOS version ferries back needless location data to Nikon.
Olympus was another pioneer of digital photography, with its first digital camera released in 1996. With its Olympus ImageShare app, we didn't uncover any concerns in our testing, so you can rest easy that no data is being transmitted without your permission.
Panasonic Image App
Panasonic is a well-known brand that makes a lot of audio-visual products. The Panasonic Image App presented no issues in our testing. Regardless of whether you're on iOS or Android, you can safely use Panasonic's app paired with your camera without fear of your data being siphoned off elsewhere.
Ricoh Image Sync
After acquiring the Pentax camera business in 2011, Ricoh has since been churning out a range of quality digital cameras. Similar to the apps from Canon and Panasonic, we found that the Ricoh Image Sync app does not capture any personal data with either its iOS or Android versions.
Sony PlayMemories Mobile
One of the top five largest TV manufacturers in the world, Sony also offers a wide range of cameras in its Cyber-Shot range. We tested its PlayMemories Mobile app and found that it sends information about the camera used and the mobile provider back to Sony. Some location data is returned as well, but this information is ferried back to Apple (iOS) and Google (Android).
Yi Mirrorless - AI-Art Edition
A China-based company that is quite new to the camera market released its first ever mirrorless camera late last year - the Yi M1. While the camera isn’t available in retail stores in the UK, it can be found easily online.
Used in conjunction with the M1, its free Yi Mirrorless app is primarily used for sharing photos on social media sites, but it doesn’t include any of the remote control features you may see in other camera apps.
However, the range of information the Yi app captures is strange and unnecessary. We’ve found that it collects data identifying the smartphone and camera, and also the name and password of the wireless connection between your camera and smartphone.
The Yi app sends all of its data to Chinese servers and, crucially, it doesn’t ask you permission to do so. There is no hint within the app or its messaging to indicate that this information transfer is occurring.
How to use camera apps safely
Technically, no camera apps should transfer any personal data without your permission. To share photos on social media this information isn't needed.
We recommend checking the access permissions the app requests when you first install it. This way, you can be sure what information you’re disclosing before you use the app for the first time. If possible, try to deny the permissions for revealing camera details and location data.
You should also read all the terms and conditions that accompany the app before installing it on your mobile device. The small print can be quite lengthy and time-consuming to fully read and digest, but it’s worth it if you’re concerned about how your data is handled by companies.
However, if you become aware that an organisation has lost your data, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and, in some cases, claim compensation.
Visit the Which? Consumer Rights guide My data has been lost, what are my rights? for advice on what to do.
We believe the government isn't doing enough when it comes to data breaches. Go to Which? calls for collective redress following data breaches to find out how we want consumer protection to go further.