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Google Photos bug puts bad digital dates on film-era photos

A glitch wiped out people's work to organize older photos. Google warns people not to edit photo dates for now.

Google Photos

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

If you're the kind of person who digitizes film-era photos, then painstakingly edits them with the actual date they were taken, you're also probably the kind of person who's going to be very unhappy when a Google Photos bug wipes out your work.

That's why dozens of people are complaining about a problem with Google Photos. For any photos people marked as being taken in 1979 or earlier, Google Photos changed it to the date they were scanned, Google said in a forum posting about the problem.

The photos themselves are still available, but because their dates are changed, Google shows them in the wrong chronological order.

"I keep 1,000's and 1,000's of photos of historical significance for old WWII Bomb Wings," one person complained. "Years of interviewing to determine exact dates and references to other dates.. photos organized precisely down to the minute of occurrence.., now FRIKIN WIPED CLEAN. These old pilots and crew are DEAD. Info is GONE!!!!!"

Photo metadata -- the extra information that shows things like where and when a photo was taken and who or what is in it -- is a powerful improvement on the old days of photography usually meant scrawling names on the backs of prints. But metadata can easily be changed, too, as the Google Photos users found to their chagrin.

It's not clear if Google will be able to restore the photo dates. Google didn't respond to a request for comment. However, Google did apologize Wednesday:

We are still working to correct an issue that caused photos with edited timestamps, prior to 1979, to be reset to the file's creation date. This has resulted in those photos appearing out of place in your library, and not under the adjusted date.

In the meantime, we recommend holding off on re-editing the dates on the photos. We will update this thread again by the end of next week with the current status.

We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused and please know that we are working to resolve this as quickly as possible.