From tabloid covers and gossip blogs to mainstream news, we’re constantly seeing embarrassing photos of the rich and famous. But it’s not just celebrities who can be harmed by inappropriately shared photos. With smartphone cameras in our hands all the time, and social media just a click away, it’s all too easy for our images to end up in the wrong hands. Here are some of the risks and what you can do about them.
Today’s cameras can embed information, including the time and often the geolocation, into image files. On its own, that’s not anything to worry about. However, according to a recent Kaspersky blog, social media platforms can retain that information when a photo is posted, so a simple browser plugin can reveal the date, time, and location information for a photo. While your boss probably won’t check if that photo of you hiking was taken on a day you called in sick, thieves and predators could use that information to figure out your habits in order to rob or otherwise take advantage of you.
Another concern with our current digital habits is how photos posted on social media can be misused. Social media companies use facial recognition technology to identify people in posted photos and recommend that they be tagged. But that also makes it easy for ill-wishers to track you down and cause trouble. Think about the recent instances where political protestors and even bystanders were identified from photos and then publicly shamed and made targets for online harassment, and even risked job loss.
Unfortunately, you have limited ability to stop people from taking or posting photos of you. While many countries have strict privacy laws around photos, U.S. law allows photos of individuals except where there is an expectation of privacy—for instance, in bedrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms, medical care facilities, and underneath one’s clothing.
While you can’t control what photos are taken, you do have some ability to control how they are shared on social media. For example, Facebook allows you to remove tags from photos you’ve been tagged in, turn off tag suggestions for photos of you, and even send tags to a moderation queue before they officially post to your timeline. Check the social media platforms you use and find out what options you have.
The best approach to photo privacy is to be proactive. Be aware of who’s taking photos around you and tell them if you don’t want pictures shared. In return, be careful what you share, especially photos of children. (A recent NPR story explored the privacy expectations of children about their parents sharing photos. As one mother points out, we teach kids that their bodies are private, so why not images of themselves?) As mentioned in a recent article, we recommend setting a DUWOP policy with family and friends: don’t upload without permission. Also, use the tools on your social media accounts to regularly review images of you that have been posted and ask that they be taken down if you have concerns. The best way to prevent photo problems is to “face” them.