In response to some questions received via email, I wanted to clarify something that appears to be poorly understood, about what sharing photos actually means on Facebook.  When we talk about ‘sharing’ with an audience – friends, public, whatever – you really should think about it not as passing round a photo album, but as handing them their own copy of the actual photo file, theirs to do whatever they want with.  ‘Sharing’ sounds so easy, inconsequential and fun – as indeed it can be and should be.  Certainly Facebook makes it so frictionless and fast, that it’s easy to overlook quite how potentially generous you are being with your digital distributing.

download facebook pic

This is not my picture, it’s a group cover picture… one click away

Not sure what I mean? Log into Facebook and do a search on a random name, make something up.  From the results generated, click into the timeline of someone you don’t know, and click on their profile picture (public by default).  Hover on the ‘options’ at the bottom of the photo, and you will see the option to ‘download’ – which does exactly what it says on the tin.  That’s right, any Facebook user can simply download your photo to their hard drive.

You can of course do this with any photos shared by your friends with their friends (including you), any photos shared by anyone anywhere publicly.  They don’t have to be of you or anything to do with you…  Though it’s a great way of collecting photos you might later want to print in an album for example, and if lots of people are at an event and take snaps you get a much more interesting wedding or party album from different perspectives  and points of view.  You can even use an entirely automated service like (If This Then That – great fun application, check it out!) to collect any photo you are tagged in on Facebook and download it to your local drive or dropbox.

The trouble is, so can any of the 1 billion other users of Facebook.

Of course, they probably won’t, most of them have better things to do I am sure.  BUT, if you were a stalker or a lonely weirdo or a jilted lover with psychopathic tendencies, Facebook has made it a whole lot easier to behave in a deeply disturbed and creepy way.

Before Facebook – but since the era of digital photography in the past decade or so – the usual way of sharing photos was to email them, for those not yet clued on to uploading and sharing via services like Flickr or Picasa.  It was more of a faff as you usually had to use some kind of optimising software to create a file suitably sized to send as an attachment, even though a lot of early digital cameras had file output sizes that were laughably small by today’s expectations – my first digital camera cost more than my first car, weighed a similar amount, and could output files that were nearly 2 whole megapixels – once what I still thought of as the shutter had deigned to lazily close, a second or so after you clicked the button.  For a long time I didn’t even take that many, as my mindset was still locked in to not ‘wasting’ the precious resource of photography unnecessarily.

By the time you had transferred your photos to a PC and uploaded them (via dial-up!) to a sharing service, or attached them to an email, the sheer drag on the process of all these different tasks meant you had plenty of time to think about it and who you were choosing to share them with.  You had time to appreciate that you were basically sending a copy of that file to all recipients, that they could in theory then save or print or forward on to whomever they chose… but chances are that back a decade or so even for you digital early adopters out there, your address book was quite a bit smaller anyway than it is now and consisted largely of actual people you knew and thought might like to see that photo of your baby or whatever.

If you need a metaphor from even further back in the history of photography, when you share a digital image file whether by email or on Facebook, you are essentially handing out not just a print of that image but the negative too – the ability to make infinite copies, that they can share with anyone they like, even edit in any way they choose.

In fact it’s worse than that because a digital image file, whether jpeg, png, RAW or whatever, contains a lot more than the image itself.  If someone downloads it from Facebook or anywhere else, they download the whole file, including all its EXIF data potentially including geotagging (which we will explore in another article soon)

Do you STILL want to use photos of your kids in your profile or cover photo..?  Think about it.

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, August 9th 2013

©Maya Middlemiss,  Casslar Consulting SL

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