Your Photos, Your Privacy: Tips for Safe Online Sharing

Before the age of digital cameras and smartphones, we shared our photos with family and friends by purchasing extra prints and mailing them via snail mail. Today’s technology allows us to share photos and memories across the miles, with the click of a mouse or a tap on a screen.

Unfortunately, this technology can make those photos and their data vulnerable.

The privacy of your photos is important, and there are ways to protect the images you share.

While we covered information specific to sharing photos in this previous blog post, here we shift our focus toward helping you understand concerns and safeguards related to the privacy of your photos once you upload them to an online site.

Understanding Privacy Settings and Privacy Terms

You can set your privacy settings as tightly as you wish. For example, you can make your accounts private and only allow friends or followers to see your photos.

However, it is just as important to know a website’s privacy terms to better understand concerns such as:

  • What does the company DO with your photos?
  • What information do they pull from your photos? We reviewed this information, which is called metadata, in a previous post.
  • Does the company own any rights to your photos?

In general, a company’s privacy terms discuss how they collect, use, disclose, store, and transfer your information, specifically the information in your photos.

Keeping Your Pictures Private on Photo Storage and Sharing Sites

Whether you take photos with a DSLR camera or your smartphone, you may want to store and share your photos on an online site. If you choose to use an online site, there are privacy concerns to watch out for if you’re using a free account.

Photos you store on Dropbox are private, and Dropbox does not collect information from your photos. As the account holder, only you can share your photos. The free version of Dropbox does not allow the user to remotely wipe all files from a lost or stolen device.

Google advertises that YOU have control over your privacy and what you share. If you don’t want a location associated with your photos, you can hide that information.

In your Google Photos account settings, you can remove the geo-location from photos that get shared via a shareable link using the Google Photos app. You can also remove location information recorded directly onto your photos by your camera’s GPS device.

Before you delete any images, Google Photos advises users to be aware that deleted photos are not automatically removed from every account associated with Google. Visit Google Photos support for more information.

Flickr is a commonly used photo storage and sharing provider managed by Yahoo. Flickr’s privacy policies fall under the larger umbrella of Yahoo. The only privacy concern with the free version of Flickr is ads.

Flickr will display advertisements in your browser that relate to the metadata and notes of the photo you are viewing or the search term you entered in the Flickr search box. We recommend you manually change your privacy settings, as Flickr defaults to making all of your photos public.

iCloud for Mac Users
Apple takes your privacy very seriously, and privacy terms are the same whether you keep your photos on the free version of iCloud, or pay for more iCloud storage. Apple assures users that photo data is encrypted when it is sent or stored. In their privacy policy, Apple states they do not collect personal information from your photos to sell to advertisers or other organizations when you upload photos. See more detail about the security of your photos on iCloud here.

What Happens to Your Photos on Social Media Sites?

It’s important to understand that most social media providers collect metadata from your photos in order to learn more about you your interests, travel, shopping preferences, etc. While social media outlets are not in the business of selling that information, advertisers “mine” that data to specifically target their ads.

According to Facebook’s Data Policy, when you upload a photo to their site, Facebook can collect information (metadata) from that image, such as the location of the photo or the creation date.

Facebook uses this information to provide, improve, and develop their services to benefit you. For example, Facebook compares your friends’ pictures to information found in your photos then makes suggestions for photo tagging.

Keep in mind that when you tag a family member or friend in a photo you post, you can no longer control who sees that photo, because Facebook will show it to people who aren’t in your list of Facebook friends. The people who are tagged have control over who sees the photo, and that may include the general public or their Facebook friends.

Facebook frequently makes changes to their privacy setting options. It’s a good idea to do a monthly review of your settings to make sure Facebook’s changes have not altered your preferred settings.

To prevent your account from being hacked, we recommend setting up Login Alerts and Two-Factor Authentication.

With Login Alerts, Facebook sends you a notification if someone tries to log in to your account from an unrecognized browser.

Two-factor Authentication activates a second login code in addition to your password. If you or anyone else tries to log in to your account from an unrecognized browser, that person will need to enter a secondary code and confirm via text message.

Instagram’s Privacy Settings are simple: Either your account is public or private. If your account is private, only people who follow you can see your photos. Friends can still share screenshots of your posts, though, so it’s possible the images you post won’t stay 100% private.

If you have a public Instagram account, your photos or videos may appear on Google searches. If you don’t want this, Instagram suggests revoking access to the third-party website, or setting your account to private. It may take some time for these sites and Google to remove the images, even if you delete your account.

If you use your private Instagram account to share a photo to your other social media accounts (like Facebook or Twitter), the photo’s permalink (direct link or URL attached to the photo) is active. That means your photo is visible and publicly accessible to anyone with access to its direct link. On Instagram, your photo is only visible to your followers.

Information gathered from photos you tweet is used to make inferences about your interests and location. This allows Twitter advertisers to better target their “Sponsored” tweets.

Twitter does have settings that allow you to make your tweets more private. One example is Protected Tweets. Using Protected Tweets is similar to making your account private, and others will have to request access before they can follow you.

Protecting your tweets also keeps your images and profile from appearing in Google searches.

The main concept of Pinterest is being able to view other people’s pins and boards, and having other people see yours. If there are some personal images you don’t want the world to see, you can hide them by creating Private Boards.

Pinterest’s straightforward privacy approach allows you to:

  • Hide your account from search engines.
  • Hide your Pins from other people.
  • Disable posting to Facebook or Twitter.
  • Unfollow Facebook friends.
  • Disable personalized ads based on your websites you’ve visited.

Staying Connected While You Guard Your Photos

We recommend tightening your own privacy settings everywhere you share your photos. But, don’t stop sharing them! Thankfully, we have access to safety guardrails within photo sharing and social media sites that let us keep family and friends close when we exchange our photos online.

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