Online Photo-Sharing Privacy and Security

July is a prime vacation month, and a perfect time to take and share digital photos online.

Social networking websites and online photo-sharing applications allow us to quickly and easily share our photos globally. This raises questions about the security and privacy of our digital photos. How can we be assured that the photos we want to share are seen only by the people with whom we want to share them?

Before sharing a photo online in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or other forms of social media, first determine the audience with whom you are sharing the photo(s).

1. Will anything in the photo expose you or others to a security risk? For example, does the photo identify where you work or live by showing your address or street sign?

2. Due to facial recognition technology, e.g. in Facebook, would anyone in the photo object to an unflattering or embarrassing photo being posted and/or being tagged?

3. Is the photo-sharing privacy locked down so that strangers and identity thieves will not have access to the photo?

Photo Privacy in Facebook

Before posting a photo in Facebook, first review the Privacy Settings Shortcut Menu shown below. Note that the default setting for Who can see my future posts? is Public. For the greatest security for future posts, change this setting to Friends or a Custom List Setting.

When posting a photo or starting a photo album in Facebook, be sure to select the privacy setting that is best for you and the people in the photo. Setting up a custom list containing the names of the people whom you trust in advance of photo-sharing is a good idea.

Although some people enjoy tagging and being tagged in photos, the best practice is not to tag someone in a shared photo unless the other person has given their permission. It is never a good idea to fully identify children under the age of 18 with their first and last names. When in doubt, request the permission of their parents before posting photos of children.

In Facebook, be sure to check your privacy settings to maintain control over others tagging you in photos.

For the greatest personal privacy, click on Edit and Enable Review at Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? ; click on Edit and select Only Me at When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience if they aren’t already in it?; click on Edit and select No One at Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded? 

Whether viewing Facebook photos on a computer or on a portable device, photos are easily saved. Remember that if you can easily save photos that are shared on Facebook, others can save your photos too. That’s why it is important to carefully limit the audience for your shared photos.

Additional Privacy Concerns in Facebook

One additional concern with photo-sharing in Facebook is that although you may limit the audience for the photos you share, any of the people with whom you share a photo can directly share the photo with others on their own timeline, on a friend’s timeline, in a group, on a page, or in a private message–regardless of how tight your privacy settings.

Facebook and other forms of social media may allow you to control the audience of the photos that you post, but there is no guarantee that the photos you share will be restricted to just those people.

If security and privacy are a concern, consider sharing photos via email or through a photo-sharing website such as Dropbox or Shutterfly which may offer greater privacy protection.

2 comments on “Online Photo-Sharing Privacy and Security

  1. I’ve been looking for a photo sharing website for some time now, so have read quite a few of these types of articles. My main concern is security and privacy. Although nearly all articles such as yours address the very valid issue of audience control, they completely overlook the issue of licensing content. It seems to me that almost all free and some paid photo sharing websites reserve the right to ‘use’, ‘distribute’ or ‘sublicense’ royalty free. In other words your photo’s are not your own, although it’s unlikely, you could end up seeing one of your photo’s on the side of a bus or in glossy magazine while sitting in the dentist waiting room.

    To illustrate my point you only have to look under section 10 of the T&C’s for Shutterfly; which supposedly offers greater privacy protection.

    “You will retain ownership of such User Submitted Materials, and you grant Shutterfly and its designees a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual irrevocable right and license, with right of sublicense (through multiple tiers), to use, reproduce, distribute (through multiple tiers), create derivative works of and publicly display such User Submitted Materials solely in connection with the provision or production of any product or service you request.”

    So I guess my point is that if we are going to take issue with security and privacy making sure the front door is locked is pointless when the backdoor is wide open. A more comprehensive view is required.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.