Would you feel safe handing photos of yourself out to everyone in the world without knowing their intentions, mental stability, criminal background or position in your workplace? Most of us wouldn’t, and yet scores of people do just that every day-by posting their photos on dating websites, classified personals such as craigslist, e-mailing them or using other non-secure channels.
We’ve grown to trust the Internet as a fixture in our daily lives. However, the digital world poses the same threats to our personal safety and privacy as the real world, only amplified through its ability to connect anyone with any bit of data that floats freely through the ether. In the world of online dating, people may feel safer because they share images anonymously but, in reality, this just opens up more questions about who you’re looking at and vice versa.
Sharing photos through text, e-mail, online dating sites or public photo sharing environments puts your image in front of anyone and everyone, possibly affecting your personal safety, reputation and your employability. In one high-profile case, Congressman Chris Lee’s shirtless photo, e-mailed to a woman that he met on craigslist, forced him to resign after his “private” image went public. But you don’t have to be famous to become the victim of misused photo sharing. In Dallas, a firefighter lost his job after the husband of a woman with whom he had an affair informed the fire department of the nude photos that the firefighter posted on various adult dating websites that were specifically marketed for casual sexual encounters. In Canada, a judge stepped down after explicit pictures, taken by her attorney husband and shared through e-mail without her knowledge, surfaced online on a porn website.
In addition, there are many cases when a person’s photo has been stolen or saved and used by another to create a fictitious online identity-a scenario chronicled in the documentary film Catfish. While a few states have updated their laws to include online impersonation as a crime, it is often hard to track, with many unaware that they are victims. In one instance, a California man had his pictures “borrowed” and used by another man who was meeting women on a popular Jewish dating site. It was only by chance that he knew a woman who was communicating with this man and had received the pictures during their correspondence. In another instance, a 24-year-old Denver woman had her photos and details taken from her Facebook page and used by a 46-year-old woman for over six months to communicate with men that she met on various free and paid dating sites. No legal action was taken by the state in either case.
Dating sites are also a playing ground for con artists, criminals and sex offenders. Countless stories have surfaced about people who have sent money or goods to people who have romanced them online; others have been robbed at knifepoint, sexually abused and even murdered. It is wise, therefore, to add a layer of protection to your screening process by protecting your images and personal identity.
If you want to share photos with that online charmer-or with anyone else, for that matter-you should look into a private photo sharing service. These services offer a closed, secure environment in which members can share photos, anonymously or otherwise. When selecting such a service, make sure you have control over who specifically can look at your photos, which photos they can see and how long the photos remain viewable to them. Also, confirm that the site offers security features that protect your images from being captured or saved by the viewer in order to prevent them from being used in an unintended way.
Posting a Profile Picture
Meeting someone online does involve knowing that there will be a certain level of attraction, so posting a picture in an online profile has been shown to increase the number of responses an online dater receives. Some services go even further to protect your anonymity. One private photo sharing site, for example, lets you create a “teaser image” that clouds your image just enough to keep your identity private, while still allowing viewers to get a general idea of what you look like. Members can post this teaser image in the form of a JPEG file, link or clickable image on dating sites or other online locations as part of their personal profile and direct the individuals that they are interested in back to the website to see their actual photo. The service also uses patent-pending technology to prevent people from saving, forwarding or otherwise tampering with your images once they have viewing access to them.
In a world where privacy has largely become a thing of the past, it’s up to you to find and maintain a safe harbor for your online identity. Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers-take steps to make sure your private life stays private.