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Vignette: Easily Update Your Contact Photos Without Sacrificing Privacy

I’m the type of person who tries to add a photo to each of my iPhone’s contact listings. I can’t stand having grey, initial-laden photo bubbles in Messages; while contact photos can be disabled in Messages’ settings, I’ve never done that because once photos are added, it gives the app so much extra beauty and utility. For years I’ve done the manual work of choosing contact photos from my own photo library or, more often, finding images for contacts online via social media, then adding them to my contacts from there.

Based on the times I’ve peeked at someone else’s Messages app, most people never bother to go through the trouble of manually configuring contact photos; I don’t blame them, because it’s a nuisance. However, a new app called Vignette, from developer Casey Liss, aims to eliminate the pain of adding contact images by sourcing the web and social media for you, and updating your contacts’ photos accordingly – all in a privacy-conscious way.

Unlike many other apps that aim to streamline the act of adding contact photos, Vignette doesn’t require access to any of your personal social media accounts. Commonly, apps will ask you to log in to Facebook, for example, so they can crawl your friends list to extract profile images and other data for your contacts. While this is an effective method, it also requires giving a third-party app special access to your social media accounts. Vignette takes a different approach.

When you open Vignette and hit ‘Find Contact Images,’ there’s no logging into other accounts required. The app needs access to your contacts, for obvious reasons, but besides that Vignette does all the work for you without needing additional permissions.

Vignette currently sources contact photos from four databases: Gravatar, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Since the app doesn’t require logging into any of these accounts, it instead looks at the data stored in each of your contacts and tries to match that data with available profile pictures from each service. Email addresses pull photos from Gravatar, and entries in the ‘Social Profiles’ section of your contacts will pull from each respective service – for Twitter and Instagram, a username is expected,1 and for Facebook Vignette uses the link that iOS populated back in the day when it offered a built-in sync feature for Facebook contacts.

Once Vignette finishes pulling in images, you’ll see a list of all contacts that a profile photo was found for. By default every contact is pre-selected to adopt the new photo, but you can pick and choose which you want to update and which you don’t, so if you already have great photos for certain contacts, you don’t have to overwrite those but can keep them as-is. When Vignette finds photos for a contact from multiple sources, you can browse all the available options and go with whichever one you prefer.

Historically, if you’ve wanted an easy method for populating your contacts with photos, your best option has been apps that trade your privacy for the convenience they offer. In a day where data breaches are constantly in the news, Vignette stands as a strong alternative. The app takes your privacy seriously while still providing a valuable utility that can spruce up your contacts, and the Messages app, with just the push of a few buttons.

Vignette is available as a free download on the App Store; a one-time $4.99 In-App Purchase will unlock saving images to your contacts.

  1. While Instagram doesn’t exist as a dedicated ‘social profile’ parameter in Contacts, if you select ‘Add Custom Service’ when adding a social profile, and name that service Instagram, Vignette will find it. ↩︎

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