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I have been getting paranoid lately and decided to ask for your insight on this issue. A year ago, I took photos of some personal information (cc, passport, etc), and deleted them a month later, along with some videos that reveal my face and sound. A couple of months ago, my iPhone (iOS 12.2) was stolen and ever since, I am not able to get a good sleep as I am concerned about identity theft, or even social engineering that may occur in the future due to my losing my phone.

Here are some questions I would be very happy if you could answer.

  1. Once a photo/video is uploaded to iCloud or Google Photos, does it stay in their servers forever even after I deleted it from the trash, like does consumer content ever completely erased? If no, should I be worried about them getting hacked? It's been more than a year since I deleted that personally-identifiable content. Also, the same goes for other apps such as Facebook and Instagram that require access to the gallery.

  2. I know there are certain forensic tools that can recover data from iPhones. Can they recover the data that was deleted from the phone more than a year ago? Like photos and videos? I'm worried a criminal would use the phone (Find My iPhone wasn't working, so I couldn't blacklist the IMEI) and get caught after committing a crime, and law-enforcement find my ID in there when they dig it up. I know it sounds like paranoia, but know it's a possibility. Flash memory and data pointers make it possible.

  3. What advice would you give to continue my life being not worried about such things? It is definitely affecting my daily life.

Thank you all!

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Once a photo/video is uploaded to iCloud or Google Photos, does it stay in their servers forever even after I deleted it

One can never be sure. They may have backups (I really hope so) that are kept for long time. What is deleted from the live system still stays in backups. They may have bugs in the trash-purging procedure. Whatever. In the general case, an ordinary user will not capable of accessing these obscure copies. Then again, data breaches do happen.

certain forensic tools that can recover data from iPhones. Can they recover the data that was deleted from the phone more than a year ago?

It depends. The storage space in these devices is constantly reused and once a certain space is marked as free, it may or may not be overwritten. If your iPhone is, say, 32GB and you did save nearly 32GB (and got the storage full), you have some degree of confidence that the data you deleted before is overwritten. But you can still not be sure. These storage devices have spare blocks that are sometimes exchanged to active ones, so your data may have settled in some spare block. There are other possibilities, too.

What advice would you give to continue my life being not worried about such things? It is definitely affecting my daily life.

Whatever you do now, it will not affect the possibility of someone abusing your personal information that you don't control anymore.

  1. Don't worry. The probability of someone recovering your data is fairly low (except if you are a celebrity, a high-rank business or government official and the attack is targeted at you personaly). Most of the thieves just sell the phone to someone that is interested in the phone itself and the first thing they do is to wipe the phone clean. They have to in order to minimize the risk of the stolen item to be tracked back to them by the law enforcement or by a capable victim.

And you cannot do much by worrying anyway.

  1. Learn the lesson - the phone has encryption functions, designed exactly to mitigate these risks. In the future, either learn to use them, or don't put sensitive information on your phone.
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