IT in Manufacturing

Facebook image theft prevention

September 2009 IT in Manufacturing

Five tips for protecting your visual identity

Web 2.0 applications in general and social networking applications in particular are no longer just some friendly platforms for sharing news about the most recent project one could have, but also the ideal place for data and identity theft.

These days’ attempts no longer focus to purloin valuable information about the user and his or her account. Pictures, e-cards and photo streams seem to be the preferred target of the e-larcenists, as proven by the hijacked family Christmas card employed for a grocery commercial or the stolen picture of a baby used in a fraudulent scheme for an alleged adoption.

A platform gathering a number of users that almost equals the US population, with about half of them logging in daily, Facebook is one of the most criticised social networks for its loose privacy policy. A loose policy that also applies for images, as you can read in the following excerpt of the second article in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (Revised 1 May, 2009):

“Sharing your content and information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how we share your content through your privacy and application settings. In order for us to use certain types of content and provide you with Facebook, you agree to the following:

* For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ('IP content'), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ('IP License'). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account (except to the extent your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it).”

Technically, this opens the door to unrestricted/unpunished visual identity exploitation, as already shown by the abusive usage of photos lifted from users’ Facebook gallery involved in third-party advertisement campaigns.

To preserve your images and to protect your visual identity, follow the five tips below:

#1 Avoid uploading pictures – Although a picture is worth a thousand words, if one is not really necessary, you should refrain from posting it. This is probably the simplest way to avoid image theft.

#2 Check the privacy options – Facebook and other social networking platforms offer several options for restricting access to the content you post, including uploaded photos. You can choose whether the data and images in your albums are public or available only to a limited number of people. Also, a good idea would be to refrain from involving third-party services or options, especially those asking you to reveal your Facebook login credentials.

#3 Embed/add a watermark – Another simple method to protect your visual content is to embed or add a visible (digital) watermark, such as your name or logo. Although it alters the image (and thus, in some cases, impairs a bit its spectacular character), this practice will probably discourage any e-thief from stealing your photo and using it for a different purpose (ie, identity forging or cases that involve copyright infringement). Professional image editing applications include such option, but you could also search the Internet for freeware or on-line watermark creators with similar capabilities (it is also worth checking your digital camera CD for a similar utility).

#4 Use low quality/small size images – Keep your images at a resolution of 72 dpi and, if possible, do not exceed a size of 640 x 480 pixels. Although you will not look as sharp as a model on the cover of a glossy magazine, people will still be able to recognise you. Plus you will have more chances to keep your visual identity intact. Not to mention that you save quite a lot of the limited storage space, which social networking platforms provide.

#5 Try not to post individual, portrait images – as shown by two of the three previously mentioned cases of image theft, the photos of individuals (both adults and kids) have more chances to be lifted for nefarious purposes than those depicting groups, family or featuring subjects in nature or sets that are difficult to be otherwise removed from the picture.

For more information Daniella Hess, product manager, Holton & Associates, +27 (0)11 789 6181,,

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