WhatsApp photos clogging up your phone? Here’s how to fix that

WhatsApp

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It’s time to do something about those photos and videos automatically saving to your camera roll.

WhatsApp is the most popular end-to-end encrypted messaging app in the world. But while other people can’t snoop on what you’re saying, that doesn’t mean other WhatsApp data isn’t being processed.

By far the biggest data-hogging element of WhatsApp is the photos, videos, and gifs that can quickly clog up your phone’s storage. As well as filling your phone’s memory, photos that save to your camera roll can be a privacy nightmare: if you’re scrolling through pics with friends or family, nobody wants that to be punctuated with something inappropriate that arrived through WhatsApp.

WhatsApp automatically downloads new photos and videos that are sent to you. These are stored on your phone, but can also be saved to your camera roll. An updated version of WhatsApp now gives you more control over what media is stored on your phone.

Clear everything out

First, you want to start with a clear-out. Some of your longest running and most active WhatsApp chats most likely take up a sizeable chunk of your device’s storage. WhatsApp has introduced some new storage management tools to help you take back control. Storage management may not be the most glamorous task, but it could help to improve your phone’s performance pretty quickly.

In WhatsApp, navigate to ‘Settings’ (found in the menu represented by three dots in the top right of WhatsApp), then ‘Storage and data’, and finally ‘Manage storage’. This page shows a list of your conversations and how much storage each of them was using. Tap on a person or group and you’ll see how many messages, contacts, photos, locations, gifs, videos, documents and audio messages are stored. You can “free up space” by selecting the option on screen and deciding which categories of data to get rid of from the chat.

While this method can help crush some of the biggest storage culprits, it’s a pretty blunt tool. Deleting all photos from a chat risks losing some of the images that you want to keep. WhatsApp’s latest storage tool, which is rolling out to everyone at the start of November, is designed to give people more granular control.

It has redesigned the ‘Manage storage’ page to show how much of your phone is being consumed by data stored in WhatsApp. it also highlights photos and videos that have been forwarded to you multiple times and the biggest files on your device. The two new sections – ‘Forwarded many times’ and ‘Larger than 5MB’ – can be accessed in a gallery view where you can batch delete files. Tap on all the files you want to get rid of and hit the delete icon. There’s also the option to select all and move them instantly to trash.

Stop saving WhatsApp photos to your phone

By default, on both Android and iOS, WhatsApp will automatically download and save images to your phone. The platform does this so it can provide “quick access to your latest photos”. But it can be a pain, especially when you don’t want memes or other internet fodder clogging up your phone’s camera roll.

These settings can be changed. Head to ‘Settings’, then ‘Chats’. On Android devices turning off ‘Media visibility’ will stop newly downloaded photos and videos from appearing in your phone’s gallery. While on iOS through the same chats menu, selecting the ‘Save to camera roll’ option will let you turn it off.

Stop automatic downloads

Now that images and videos aren’t showing up in your camera roll, there’s one more way to limit what happens to the media you receive. You’re able to control whether they are automatically downloaded to your phone or whether you want to manually download the files when you’re ready to open them.

WhatsApp has a few options for download settings – they’re found in the ‘Data and storage usage’ menu. The options are broadly the same on both Android and iOS. You can select whether media will automatically download if you’re relying on mobile data, connected to a Wi-Fi network, or never. Android also has the option to limit automatic downloads when you’re roaming.

By default WhatsApp will download images when you have a mobile data connection and video when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Changing these options to never, or only to download everything on Wi-Fi, can help to save some mobile data but also comes with the caveat that you’ll have to tap each image or video when you want to download them.

Matt Burgess is WIRED’s deputy digital editor. He tweets from @mattburgess1