As I said in last week’s post, one of the biggest selling points for using my smartphone camera is because of convenience. Now that smartphones are basically connected to every single social media platform, I can share my photos almost as soon as I take them. But as with any other technology, there are pros and cons to this functionality.
I have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, and a whole range of other free online messaging services like Whatsapp, WeChat, and LINE, which I access on my phone. Some of them are for sharing with friends and family in Australia, most of them are for communicating with people overseas. They’re all free to use.
If I took photos with a camera, I would have to wait until I had access to a computer to upload them onto places like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. I’m the kind of person who is 1. eager to share what I’m doing and where I’m going with people as I’m doing it, and 2. incredibly impatient, so that is the least desirable option. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but ever since Facebook switched over to Timeline from the all Wall, I’m constantly hung up on the need for posts to appear in chronological order (I know you can backdate posts, but it’s not the same).
With a smartphone, I can take a picture and upload it to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter simultaneously (we’ll get to Tumblr in a second), with minimal fuss. The uploads can work in the background while I start doing something else. I can also send them to my friends directly via messaging apps, if I want to keep it private. Easy.
There’s a lot of concern over the privacy settings on social media sites, and the ramifications of sharing your personal photos online. They’re definitely founded fears — there’s no one hundred percent fool-proof way of securing your photos online, short of not uploading them at all — but there are ways you can minimise the risk of personal photos being misused:
Tweak your privacy settings.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allows you to lock down your account so only approved people can see it. This is the “friends-only” option. You can choose who gets to see what. All my accounts are friends-only and only people I choose to approve can see more than just my basic information.
Facebook also gives you an extra layer of options, in case you don’t want a blanket lockdown of your account. On each post you make, you there is a little icon for your privacy settings for that one particular post. You can choose to make it public, friends-only, private, or even block a specific person or group from seeing it (or select certain people or groups who can).
For other sites, such as Tumblr, where you can’t control your privacy settings, or have very limited privacy options, I would strongly advise you not to share sensitive or private information at all. Ever. Save them for sharing other things you would be comfortable for anyone to know.
Ask yourself this: "Would I be comfortable showing this photo to a random person I’ve struck up a conversation with on the street?"" If your answer is no, then don’t share it online. Simple logic.
Pro: Backup and File-sharing
Phones are something we change, constantly. Maybe your contract has expired and you get to upgrade to a new phone with your next plan; maybe it’s broken or failing, and the cost of repair is more than the cost of getting a new one. You could be like me and drown your phone with freshly steamed milk while working at a cafe (I’ve done this not once, but twice — and water damage isn't covered by warranty).
Unless you had the foresight to automatically save your photos onto an external memory card, changing phones means you lose your stored photos and contacts. At the very least, you would have to spend time transferring between devices, or taking the stored data out of the old phone. But if you’ve been uploading them to Facebook or Instagram, then they’re all online for you — the quality will probably be different, or you may have slapped a filter on top of the original, but it will still be there. You can get them back once you’ve synced your new phone with your various accounts.
There is also now incredibly convenient and secure Cloud storage, which allows you to backup your phone and other devices instantly, in digital form. Your files can be protected by encryption, so they are pretty much secure until you need to access them again.
As for file-sharing, it’s as simple as you uploading them, and the recipient downloading them. I’m talking about photos in particular. I don’t have to wait until I see someone in person to share a photo with them directly; I just drop it into a conversation on a messaging app, or attach it to a chat group, and they’ll be able to see and save the photos as they please.
Con: Copyright and Security
There is always the risk of someone taking your work and replicating it to claim as theirs. It happens even without social media. In the same way as privacy settings, you can set your accounts so that only trusted people can see your content.
Unfortunately, Instagram has a less-than-stellar rep for protecting users’ copyright (or, at least, taking action in a timely manner), and their terms and conditions state that they can use and distribute the content you upload onto their site. It doesn’t mean that they own the content (it’s still yours), but they reserve right to reuse it.
Instagram Terms and Conditions. Accessed 27/05/2015.
If you find that someone has infringed on your intellectual property, you should flag it immediately. Contact the poster and request they remove it. If they don’t respond, or refuse to remove it, report it to the appropriate channels. Make sure to provide as much information as possible, including a link to the offending post, and a link to your original post.
Don’t just leave it there. Follow up on your complaint if you haven’t heard back, or no action has been taken, within 24 hours. Email them directly. You can read more about how to report copyright on Instagram here.
With image editing apps on your phone, it’s also easy to add your own signature or watermark onto your photos before uploading. Put it somewhere that isn’t easy to remove, and include your name and the date on it.
But most importantly respect other people’s intellectual property. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and all that. If you’re using something that isn’t specifically stated to be free to use, out of copyright, or usable without attribution, you must acknowledge the creator. At the very least, a link back to the place you got it from, or the name of the person and the site. It's just common courtesy.
So in the end, it’s making sure you go in with your eyes wide open. Make sure you tweak your privacy settings to suit your needs, and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. That’s what FAQs and help sections are for. If you’re really concerned, make sure your bases are covered and put your name and date on everything. Include a note in the caption or description of your images stating that your images must not be used without your permission. That way, if something does happen, you can point to your original post and say that this was all written down, very clearly, so there is no way the other person could not have known they were taking your work.
Have I scared you all off online sharing yet? It sounds quite serious and intimidating, but it’s just a matter of being careful and using common sense.