With online networks steering our social lives these days, deciding exactly how to represent ourselves on the web can be tricky. This episode of Upgrade Your Life addresses 5 kinds of photos you should avoid putting online — and why.
1. Don't post pictures showing personal data
Even if your Twitter account is private and you closely monitor who sees what on your Facebook profile, personal data revealed in photos isn't necessarily safe. Strangers and hackers aren't the only threat; people you know can steal your identity, too. And according to a study conducted by the Javelin Strategy and Research group, they are with increasing frequency, thanks to social media. According to Javelin's 2010 Identity Fraud Survey, people between the ages of 18 to 24 were especially prone to this kind of identity theft, likely due to their high level of engagement with social networking websites.
By 2011, this demographic had shifted to the 25- to 34 age group who are now the most likely victims of so-called "friendly fraud. Older Americans are the least likely to secure their social media accounts, which also puts them at high risk for identity theft at the hands of friends and acquaintances.
* Don't post any images with any identifying information whatsoever. No driver's licenses, marriage certificates, leases, or passports. You may think that's obvious, but do an image search and you'll see plenty of newly married couples, proud teen drivers, and world travelers posting high resolution pics of their documents.
* Even if you think your photos are private, more people might be able to see them than you think. On Facebook, friends of friends might be able to see photos tagged of you, if the photo's owner has the setting enabled. Facebook's photo settings are notoriously complex, so err on the side of caution and untag photos when necessary.
2. Disable location services and geotagging
Cameras are increasingly sophisticated — even the ones built into our phones. As you snap pictures, many cameras record information called EXIF data or metadata, including the camera's make & model, settings like speed and aperture, and the time the photo was taken. While much of this is helpful, it's just good for you to know you may be posting this info with a photo. Probably the biggest issue with embedded photo data is geotagging: when a GPS-enabled camera, memory card, or cell phone camera pinpoints your exact location in the metadata — even without your knowledge. Some social networking services strip that data out, but others include it — which mean you've essentially posted your home address online for anyone who knows how to view the geotagging data.
If your device includes this geodata as the default option, you'll need to disable it in your settings. If you're working with a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR, you can find this through the settings menu on your camera — just look for a menu mentioning "geotagging," "location" or "geodata" and to be sure the feature isn't enabled.
Turn off geotagging on Android and iPhone
To disable geotagging on an Android device, open the camera app and be sure the "geo-tag photos" box in the settings menu is unchecked. On an iPhone, hit the settings icon, click on "location services" from the menu, find "Camera" and move the slider from On to Off.
3. Incriminating photos
As social networks skyrocket in popularity, employers are increasingly hopping on the web to research potential new hires. Many businesses search the web for information about their prospective or current employees. Now, background checking companies like Social Intelligence Corp. have capitalized on this kind of job vetting. The FTC recently ruled that such companies can store your long-deleted online indiscretions for up to 7 years. And since 47% of Facebook walls contain content that could be deemed profane, that fact is relevant to a lot of us.
* Resist the urge to post "party photos" on social networks. And yes that means no pics with the red keg cup in hand, even if you were only drinking water.
* Keep the way you'd like to be perceived professionally in mind when choosing a profile picture.
* If friends tag you in an incriminating Facebook photo, a recent privacy overhaul means you can approve or disapprove the tag, which will keep it from showing up on your profile page. Keep in mind this new feature is limited, so those photos can still pop up elsewhere on Facebook.
4. Cut out poorly cropped photos
While it's no security risk, there's little reason to choose Facebook profile photo with a stray arm or shoulder in it. If you're looking to meet people online on a dating site or social network, make the effort to choose a profile that features you, without the distraction of half of someone else in the picture. That someone else could distract anyone who looks at your profile — who is it? Where was it taken? Is that your ex? But keeping the focus on you is easy, thanks to free apps.
Improve your photos with these free tools
Photos editing services like Picnik, and DrPic, can make cropping a snap. There's no need to use Microsoft Paint to edit a photo — if you need to tinker around with a shot, use one of these free services.
And pick an interesting one — according to stats from OKCupid, one of the web's most popular dating sites, you'll be far more likely to strike up a conversation with a potential match if your photo shows you doing something interesting, like playing the guitar or scuba diving.
5. Avoid webcam profile photos
There are a range of great, cheap, easy-to-use cameras out there, which means something better than your computer's built-in or external webcam is often at hand. Even cameraphones often boast 5 megapixels or more, which can easily eclipse the photo quality of a webcam, even on new computers. Since many webcams are optimized for video, the photo quality deteriorates when it comes to still images. Apple's new FaceTime cameras, found on the iPad 2, the MacBook Air, and other devices are one example of this. These cameras make moving pictures look great, but your still shot may be grainy and blurred.
How to improve your self-portraits
To get a good shot of yourself, you're better off using any kind of point-and-shoot camera, a DSLR for the best image quality, or even your phone. Since you can potentially find a tripod for each of these devices (check out GorillaMobile for your phone), set up your shot in advance so it will be well-framed and well-lit.
For a flattering outdoor photo, avoid the high-noon sun. Instead either take your own photo — or better yet, recruit a friend's help — during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when photographers are known to capture the best kind of light for portraits.