If You Use Facebook Photo Syncing, Download Your Photos (or the Moments App) Now

Facebook Inc. FB -0.97 % is removing all remnants of its smartphone app photo-syncing feature on Thursday. Users who want to prevent their saved private images from being deleted will have to download them now, or get Facebook's Moments app.

This has no effect on images that already have been shared on Facebook with friends or the public. We repeat, if you shared images, they won't be removed July 7. However, Facebook's move will have an impact on most people who turned on a feature to automatically sync photos taken with their phones.

If you are unsure whether you have ever used photo syncing, log on to Facebook's app or website, visit the photo section and look for an album called synced photos. You will have that folder if you have ever used the feature. If you don't see an album by that name, this doesn't apply to you.

If you have photos stored in a synced album, now is the time to download them from Facebook's website or app. If you download the Moments app a nd sign in—a crucial step—Facebook will instantly import all of the photos in your private albums into that app. If you don't do at least one of these two things, and the photos were already removed from your phone, you will lose them forever.

Moments, available on iOS and Android, was introduced in June 2015. It is a group photo-sharing service that lets you organize photos in one place, share them in bulk with family members and friends, and search for images by location or event. Like Facebook's original photos syncing, Moments will automatically tap into your smartphone's camera roll and privately import new photos you take on your phone so you can share them later.

While Facebook is one of the most popular photo-sharing services in the world, Moments has yet to catch on. It uses facial recognition to identify people so it can automatically group photos based on who is in them, and when and where they were taken. Moments is just an app; there is no web br owser version.

Facebook first introduced photo syncing in 2012, and it has been telling users of the feature about the pending shutdown and deletion since December, encouraging them to move over to Moments.

The move to replace a feature found in Facebook's main app with a breakout app is nothing new for the company. Facebook did the same thing with Messenger, which launched in 2011 but became a stand-alone private-messaging app in 2014.

While Messenger has been quite successful—Tuesday night, Messenger was the No. 3 most popular free app in Apple Inc. AAPL 0.49 % 's App Store rankings, while Facebook itself was ranked sixth and Moments was 58th—the social network has had less luck with other breakaway apps. Paper, a stand-alone news app, is being officially mothballed this month. Other failed apps include Slingshot (a Snapchat rival), Rooms (for group chats), Riff (for video editing), Home, Poke and Camera.

Write to Nathan Olivarez-Giles at Nathan.Olivarez-giles@wsj.com

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