Sunday, November 18, 2007

the close up

just an fyi, i was recently interviewed by journalist/blogger jeremy wagstaff for his wall street journal online article, "My Friend Flickr?" , about my (bad) experience with posting public photos of our kids on flickr.

he also gives some tips on his blog on how to monitor your flickr albums here... which i will be implementing as soon as i stop my head from inflating and deflating while attempting to cough up an organ...


Carrie said...

What happened? I can't read the article cause i don't subscribe.

Ooh, though, I didn't know you had a friend at the journal. i've been doing some freelance writing again and have been trying to find out if they take any freelance. is he in chicago, nyc, or where?

honglien123 said...

Wall Street Journal, nice! Although that subscribe thing, yeah, that's not so nice.

mamazilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mamazilla said...

carrie - he's not a friend of mine. he read about my experience in a comment i made on another blog. jeremy is based in singapore. he's very friendly. i'm sure he would be happy to talk to you. i think you can contact him via his blog.

lien - everytime, i enter my name (see facebook) on google news search i can find the article without subscribing. here it is though, read it while you can:

SINGAPORE -- In this Internet-driven sharing age, it's tricky being a camera-happy parent.

Take, for example, a friend of mine. She's always been a social soul and has long had the habit of posting photos of her children on Flickr, the photo-sharing site, for others to see. Flickr is, like most social networking sites, based on the idea of building communities around shared interests. This means that, unless the owner has marked his or her photos as private, other users not only can see them, but also comment and add them to their collection of "favorites" -- a sort of album of other people's photos.

And this is where my friend ran into problems. She was used to strangers commenting on her pictures. She welcomed it. But one day she found that a candid photo of her six-month old son receiving toilet training had been marked as "favorite" by someone she didn't know. When she checked the person's album of favorites, she found her son's portrait among a host of adult-oriented photos and those of nude children. She was livid. "The photos of nude children were not meant to be sexual, they are photos by proud parents, taking photos of their sons swimming naked on the beach, etc.," she said.

She complained to Flickr, and the user in question has been removed. (A spokesman for Yahoo, the company behind Flickr, said he couldn't comment on specific cases. But he said that if members flag the company about something to review, employees will look at the profile of the user in question and take action, which might mean deleting the user's profile.)

Now my trusting friend is less trusting, limiting access to many of her photos on Flickr to friends and family. She's also warned all her Flickr friends, many of whom confessed to her they hadn't considered the implications of posting their photos. "They take social networking Web sites for granted," my friend says. "I used to be like that too, but now there are too many people there."

My friend is not alone. Mamazilla, a Chicago-based mother of two with roots in the Philippines, had been a Flickr user for more than a year before she spotted someone had "favorited" some photos of her with her children, along with comments such as "a beautiful woman and her beautiful daughter" and "what a cutie." But when Mamazilla looked at his profile she found his albums included photos of children blindfolded and women in various sexual poses. "I was uncomfortable with our photos amongst those and his Flickr contacts," she said in an email, "So I blocked him." Since then she has marked all her kids' photos on Flickr as private (so only her friends can see them) and has removed all their pictures from her blog. Others have gotten themselves organized. One Flickr group called "Not OK With the Fakes" gathers information on how to stop people from copying their children's images. "Some people have no problem seeing their images pop up on Orkut, MySpace, PhotoBucket and the like, but we do," the group's home page proclaims. The group has 646 members.

And the problem is not just one of ensuring that your photos are marked private when you add them to a Web site like Flickr. Photos take on a life of their own once they're digital. Another friend who volunteers as a moderator on community message boards says that users forget that what feels like an intimate, safe environment to share thoughts and photos may also contain "lurkers," people who follow proceedings but don't participate. "A lot of people get a sense of safe security when they go on a board," my friend says. "They think it's only the group that is there, so they prattle on and on." Mothers use photos of their offspring as their "buddy icon," and proudly post pictures of their children, unaware that others may be watching. "All it takes is a right- click and 'copy,'" my friend says.

So what should you do to protect pictures of your children getting into the wrong hands? The best advice is not to post any pictures of them online that they may be unhappy to see circulating when they're older. And don't post any photos of your children on any Web site unless you can be sure that all the people who can see it are people you feel comfortable with. Remember: The Internet is not the comfortable little world inside your computer, but a vast unpoliced city that favors the anonymous.

How can you find out if your children's photos have been used? It's not easy, unless you're technically savvy (check out one way of monitoring your Flickr feed here: www If you're really concerned, you may want to consider services like Kentucky-based ReputationDefender (, which promises to "defend you and your family's good name on the Internet" by rooting out all data about your family online and, if you want, to destroy "all inaccurate, inappropriate, hurtful, and slanderous information about you and/or your child," as its Web site puts it.

Its chief executive, Michael Fertik, says that the service searches for pictures using tags, labels, captions and text that are linked to any photos, as well as more complex searches, such as digging out the meta-data usually added to photos by cameras when the shots are taken. Photos often find their way outside the user's orbit, he says, but aren't usually leaked with malicious intent. "It happens all the time," he says, "and usually doesn't start in malice but often starts in inadvertencies."

If you use services like Flickr, then you should think very hard about each picture of your child you post. Consider your online album as the equivalent of leaving the treasured family album on a public bench for every passer-by to thumb through. Limit the number of people in your online group -- whether it's Flickr, MySpace or Facebook -- and remember that even then, photos still may leak out. Master the privacy features of the service that you use before you start uploading the family album.

You may want to consider photo-sharing Web sites with higher fences. EnjoyMyMedia (, for example, takes a different approach by turning the computer folders where you store your photos into what it calls "personal broadcasting channels" that not only take the hassle out of uploading photos but also restrict access to those family and friends to whom you have issued passwords. Boston-based CEO Keith Loris sees his service as the antithesis of the Web 2.0 mantra of "share everything with everyone": "I am not interested in my 15-year-old daughter's photos, videos, etc. appearing all over the Net," he says. "I want it to be really easy for my dad, college roommate, best friend, etc. to enjoy them, but I want it to be impossible for anyone else."

This view resonates with another friend of mine, who found a simple headshot of his 1-year-old daughter had been "favorited" by a stranger alongside headshots of dozens of other people. Where previously he posted lots of photos without restrictions so even the more technophobe members of his extended family could see them, now he's more cautious. "I guess I'm distrustful of this person's site and intentions because of their anonymity," he said, when I asked him why. "Who are they? Why are they doing this? It could be all innocent. It might not be. Who knows these days on the Internet?"

His conclusion: "With children, and in particular your own children, the feeling is that you should err on the side of caution."


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