Photo Sharing Privacy Policies: Myths and Reality, Part II

Be careful when posting your pictures on photo sharing sites — they all have subtly different privacy policies, which you can run afoul of if you’re not careful.

In Part I of this article, we provided an example of how the differences in the privacy policies maintained by various photo sharing sites can trip up the unwary. In our case, we were surprised to discover the SmugMug account for our new site, Photo Sharing Nuggets, indexed on Google; we’d thought it was private.

Other sites handle the privacy issue differently, and there’s enough variation from one to another that you have to tread very carefully. In this half of the article, we’ll briefly discuss the privacy policies of other popular photo sharing sites.

Privacy in General

We’d like to begin by pointing out that most photo sharing sites do tend to be very good about protecting your private information. In their privacy policies they make it clear that they won’t share your personal info with marketers or other sites, and do make reasonable efforts to keep your info safe from hackers.

That doesn’t mean a serious hacker can’t get access to your data, though it’s rare that you’d have to worry about that. If you’re really worried it, just be sure not to publicly post your real name or offer any real-world information at all. All the top photo sharing sites will happily let you use a nickname.

Limiting Access to Your Photos

Because many people post their photos for everyone to enjoy, automatic protection isn’t part of the privacy policies for many photo sharing sites. But some people use these sites just to store and organize their photos, and provide access to a few friends or clients.

If you don’t want the world to see everything, you need to be careful. In SmugMug, for example, you have to go into your Account page and disable a feature that makes the account public. The same is true for Picasa, where you have to make your account “unlisted” if you want privacy.

Kodak Gallery and Flickr work in a similar fashion. In fact, most sites allow the option of public access, restricted access, or fully private access — but the latter is rarely standard. It’s almost always an option you have to deliberately select, so be sure to check your site’s privacy policy before you make assumptions.

In some cases, passwords are used to restrict access. For example, Snapfish allows only your invitees and their invitees to see your album, and they have to enter their email address and a password to do so. As long as you’re careful, you don’t have to worry who sees your photos.

Read It First

If you’re looking for information on how your favorite photo sharing site handles your privacy, you probably won’t find their policy in big, bold letters on the splash page. It’ll almost certainly be a small-print text link down at the bottom. Be sure to search until you find it, though, and read it completely — otherwise you may end up surprised by a privacy policy that isn’t as private as you thought.