SophosLabs: Facebook users overwhelmingly agree that it’s rude to post photos or videos of them without asking permission first. Some even think it should be illegal.


Sophos has polled over 800 Facebook users, asking whether people should seek permission before posting photographs or videos online of others.

Although a large majority – 83% – of polled Facebook users think it’s just common courtesy to ask permission before posting a photo or video of someone else (and a further 8% felt it should be illegal not to have received approval), some respondents believed that Facebook’s existing tagging controls allowed you to remove a picture that you didn’t want published online.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct.

Last August, Facebook revamped its privacy settings – introducing the option to review photos and posts that you have been tagged in before they appear on your own profile page.

(You may or may not be surprised to hear that Facebook has not enabled this option by default.)

However, rejecting a photo tagged in your name from appearing on your profile page does not stop your Facebook friend from uploading and publishing it in the first place, it merely blocks it from appearing on *your* profile. It will still be visible elsewhere on the site.


In short, you can’t force a photo of you to be taken down – but you can remove your name from its tags after it has been published. You can’t stop friends from sharing photos of you, but you can block it (after it is published) from appearing on your own profile.

The best you can do is keep requesting that your Facebook friends untag you from unflattering photographs, or pictures that you would rather remain private, and ask that they request permission to include you in photos in future.

The situation is arguably more complicated if you’re not even a member of Facebook. You can still be tagged in a Facebook photo, and your tagger can include your email address – meaning you are informed that you have been tagged and invited to visit a link to view the photo, but you won’t be able to do anything else without signing up for the site.

facebook-camera-170Facebook users have time and time again contacted Naked Security, requesting that the social network implements a system whereby photos and videos can only be tagged with a name *after* the subject has given their permission.

Presently, Facebook fosters a “publish first, apologize later” culture, rather than something which over 90% of the site’s users would seemingly prefer. And there’s no sign that Facebook is planning to change in this regard.

A few who commented on the poll agreed that we all need to stipulate to the photographer or videographer that we want our images to be kept offline.

For her part, survey respondent Pam Archer Smith, who identifies herself as a photographer and who also answered that it’s only common courtesy to ask, said she approaches the issue with the viewpoint of seeing her subjects as clients:

I always make sure I tell people that I am posting on FB and IF I have people that are not keen then I omit that photo! I have an on-line photo gallery and clients decide whether they want it private or not. It’s always best to make sure though - but if you are out with me 9/10 there will be a photo of you 😀

Other respondents reminded fellow Facebook users of what could be done through privacy settings, to reduce the potential pool of people who could view a personal photograph. (Of course, that’s little comfort for those who suffered late last year from a flaw that allowed access to private photos on the social network.)

Out of the smaller group who thought it should actually be illegal to post photos of other people without permission, one commenter, Bruce Miller, noted that the issue should be regarded the same as it is for printed materials:

If a photographer wants to put your photo in a magazine, you’re asked to sign a release. Why would we accept anything less anywhere else?

In reply, John Leal said that it actually is illegal when it comes to recording people unaware:

There is a reasonable expectation of privacy, and posting video/photos of anyone without their being aware of it, when taking under that assumed expectation is unlawful. Dependent on circumstance, photos/video taken in a public setting are a bit different, tending to fall under public domain, however, there are anti-stalking/peeping-tom laws that could offset the right to use those images/video. If nothing else the use of imagery of someone else would fall under the clause of common courtesy.

But again, those who felt it should be illegal were in the minority. Many felt that such a step would be overly litigious.

I voted with the majority. I believe it’s clear that a new etiquette should be formed around posting images, whether it’s an ad hoc effort coming from the Facebook user base or a policy that Facebook implements.

camera-170Of course, as some commenters pointed out, everything depends on what, exactly, the image depicts. When Ars Technica last week wrote about supposedly deleted Facebook photos persisting 2.5 years after they should have been erased, one circumstance in particular caught my attention: that of an Ars Technica reader who’d tried to delete a photo of his toddler, naked in the grass.

It had been posted by a family friend. Obviously, the poster didn’t request permission.

When the father attempted to delete a naked photo of his child, he was justifiably concerned when links to the JPG continued to pull up the image off a legacy Facebook server.

I do volunteer work. I write articles for nonprofits, and I take photos of events for use with those articles. I always ask people if they’re OK with their images being used online or in a printed newsletter.

Do I ask friends if it’s OK if I post their images? I have to admit, my social sphere comfortably inhabits Facebook Land.

Friends freely post photos of me and of our mutual friends without asking permission. I do the same, knowing that they’ll have no objection. In such a social circle, of course, etiquette should always take into account mutual understanding of the comfort level around published images.

Does that mean we sometimes just assume it’s OK to post images?

I think it does, at least in my case.

From now on, considering this poll, what I think of as mutual understanding of comfort level will shift to accommodate the vocalizing of a more concrete request for permission to post.

Will you change your own policy? Feel free to let us know how you and your friends and family handle the issue and whether the poll results will change how you post.