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Facebook Photos - Who Really Sees Them?

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Millions of people have now uploaded photographs to Facebook and with new tools, it is doubtless that millions more photos will soon be updated.  However, what happens to your photos - how secure or private those photos are - is an interesting tale.

Uploading Photos to Facebook

If you have an iPhone or BlackBerry than you have been able able to get photos and videos from your phone to Facebook fairly easily through the applications the social network has launched for each mobile platform. But now, Facebook has launch a universal way for you to get your photographs onto the site - email. Much like TwitPic and other mobile uploading applications for Twitter, the new Facebook mobile feature assigns you a personal email address (look for your personal email address here) that you can email your photos to. 

Emailing photos to this address automatically posts the photos to your Facebook account.  The subject line of your email will be used as the caption.  The limitation on the caption is that if you’re uploading more than one photo or video in the email, the captions will be the same for all of the images or videos. However, you can always log into your Facebook account and edit the captions later on.  You can send as many photos or videos as you want in a single email, with the only limits being the file size limits of your email provider.

A simple but smart move by Facebook, who can now offer multimedia uploading to any of its 250+ million members with email-enabled devices, not just those with high-end PDAs.

But who has access to those photos?

Facebook just fixed a bug in which all of a user's photo albums, even if their profile had been set to limit visibility only to limited groups, were exposed to use by developers using the Facebook API - the programming interface that allows developers to write applications linking to Facebook.  In fact, Facebook's Matt Trainer, on the site's developer blog, reports that they changed the behavior of the API to only show links to a user's albums when our Photos application does.  This means that the API setings are even more restrictive than the privacy setting entered by the users - a change for Facebook which has often been accused of being too liberal with people's privacy.

But a number of angry developers were quick to criticize the move. Josh Carcione claims that he spent his life savings and attracted 90,000 users to his PhotoStalker application that and "my application is now completely useless." While I hate to see anybody lose their life savings - the fact that Facebook is now blocking an application called PhotoStalker sounds like a good thing to me!

You have to tell Facebook NOT to let your photos be used in ads!

Facebook can steal photos from your profile page and use them in ads targeted at your friends.  The ads themselves are not served by Facebook but by third-party companies exploiting a part of the application platform (the API noted above) which lets app developers see all the friends of a user who has added the app, even if that user's friends haven't themselves added the app.  This was first reported on June 24th in the case of reader Rob who was invited on Facebook to meet hot singles who were waiting for him. The Facebook ad used a picture of his wife in the picture!

To opt out, you can just go here and select "no one." Or to do it from within Facebook, click settings -> privacy -> news feeds and wall -> facebook ads. If you have Ad-block, you have to disable it to do the opt out, as ad-block considers it also an ad.

Facebook Photos

The bottom line is that uploading photos onto Facebook is easy and it's a fun way to share your photos.  However, your best bet is to ASSUME your photo can and will be abused - so think carefully about what photos you upload!

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