The Disadvantages of Sharing Pictures Online

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A young couple taking a selfie photo on a smartphone
Image Credit: gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

The wealth of social media services and photo-sharing websites available online make it easier than ever to upload your pictures to the Internet. Most smartphones and mobile devices also allow you to share pictures taken with the device. Although sharing pictures online does have advantages, it is not always the smartest or safest thing to do. After a picture is uploaded, it can be near impossible to remove again, especially if the image goes viral or is used by other online users. Always read the terms of service regarding copyright and ownership before uploading any pictures to social networks, especially if you are concerned about the re-use of your work.


Alteration And Use of Picture Without Permission

Although the risk of misuse is small, sharing pictures online can result in them being altered without your permission and re-shared as memes. Because these types of photos are shared and re-shared continuously, it is virtually impossible to have them removed from the Internet. A famous example is "Success Kid," which is an image taken by a photographer of her own son. After posting the image to Flickr people modified the image by adding their own phrases and reposting it online. A father posting a personal photo of him and his son also found the picture turning up on Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and other sites after it was modified and turned into a meme.


Use of Personal Photos by Commercial Entities

Any time you share a photo online there is a risk that it can be used by commercial entities. For example, the Christmas photo of an American family was displayed on a Czech billboard without their consent. The photo was uploaded to a personal blog and social media sites by a member of the family, but ended up on a billboard after the owner of a store in Prague found it online and used it for advertising his business. In another example, the crashed car uploaded by a Flickr user was used as part of an ad campaign by Virgin Australia. Because the user did not check under which license she uploaded the photo, in this case it was one that allowed commercial use and Virgin Australia could legally use the picture without compensation.


Appearance in Online Search Results Without Permission

Even if your images are shared on a small or obscure personal blog they can still be very visible online thanks to search engines. This visibility means that you are potentially exposing these pictures to a far bigger audience that you might have thought. Apart from the obvious dangers of identity theft, it is also risky to share pictures of someone who may be in hiding because of an abusive relationship -- you could make it easier for someone to find that person.

Sharing compromising pictures depicting yourself or others engaging in criminal activities, using drugs, drinking alcohol or in the nude may end up damaging your school status or career prospects. Depending on the nature of the photos, they could also open you up to possible criminal charges.


Removing Your Pictures

If, despite your best efforts, your pictures still landed up online there are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage. Google recommends that if your pictures appear in the search results that you contact the webmaster of the site hosting the images and request a takedown. recommends that you initiate takedowns immediately if you find sites sharing your pictures without your consent, in order to avoid the spread of the pictures. For social media sites your options depend on the terms of the service. For example, Facebook recommends that you ask the person who shared the photo to take it down. If you are not the person who created or uploaded the pictures it can be very hard to remove them.