In the past, Google Photos felt like magic on Android. Your photos were kept in sync automatically without any manual interference. But that changed with Android 11 and the introduction of Scoped Storage, which aims to keep your files safer by siloing off what apps have access to and asking you to confirm when an app wants to make changes to certain files. The latter is a problem for apps like Photos, which now need to ask you for permission before just deleting or updating an image — hence, the introduction of the “Review out-of-sync changes” prompts. Google seems to recognize this problem and aims to fix it.
XDA reports that Android 12 makes this possible by introducing new file management permissions. When an app targets the latest Android version, it can ask users to give it blanket permission to modify, delete, and move files in and out of trash without needing them to allow it for every single action. The permissions in question are
ACCESS_MEDIA_LOCATION. XDA was able to produce a screenshot of the respective permission setting in Android 12, though we have yet to find an app that has already been updated to take advantage of them.
It’s great to see Google introducing a means to make Photos and other gallery apps more intuitive again, but there are some open questions. Google wanted to make files more secure with Scoped Storage, so introducing a new permission that gives apps access to restricted actions seems contradictory. I’d hope that the company introduces a certification process similar to the ones it started for access to your phone’s complete storage, your call logs, and your SMS messages.
In any case, Google Photos and other apps have yet to be updated to take advantage of the new permission, and it will take a while until Android 12 rolls out more broadly anyway, so don’t hold your breath just yet.
If this problem seems unfamiliar to you, you probably own a Pixel phone. They’re among the only devices exempt from the problem because Photos is set up as the default gallery app on them, granting it extra rights. Unfortunately, the default gallery is exclusively set by the system and not changeable, so you can’t just flip a switch to make Photos your standard app to fix the problem on your Android 11 phone.