5 new Facebook photo changes to make to protect your privacy


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A picture’s worth a thousand words, and a damaging, embarrassing, or scandalous Facebook picture can be a career-ender (not to mention a personal nightmare).  Just look at the case of Ashley Payne, a teacher who was fired after her employers found photos of her holding beers on Facebook.  Although Facebook overhauled all of its privacy settings in August 2011, we’re focusing only on photos.  Here’s what you need to know to save yourself from a future Facebook photo firestorm.

1.  Use the new detagging features

Detagging just got a lot more complicated, but you can use it to your advantage.  Instead of merely detagging like you did under the old privacy settings, detagging now has multiple steps:  it combines reporting violations with detagging.

Detagging isn’t just one step anymore.

But let’s keep it simple and tell you what to do if you just want to detag a photo of you.  First, go to the photo you want to detag and click the “remove” link.  The window above will pop up.  Then select “I want to remove this tag,” then hit the “continue” button.

And if you’ve never gone through all of your tagged photos to detag the bad ones, now’s the time.  Get to it!

2.  Ask taggers to take photos down

Facebook’s new photo privacy settings now allow you to do more than detag:  you can–in theory, at least–get the person who posted it to take it down.  As you can see in our screenshot below, you can now click a button to “Ask [the poster] to take the photo down:”

Once you choose to detag, Facebook now offers you new privacy options.

Don’t get too excited:  this feature is just a roundabout way of making you directly message the person who posted it and asking him or her to remove it.  Seriously.  Clicking the button just opens a Facebook message window that’s pre-addressed to the photo poster.

It looks like Facebook is trying to privatize photo takedowns with this option.  After all, their notoriously unhelpful compliance department is being inundated by thousands of reports of abusive content each day and can’t seem to keep up.  Forcing users to deal with each other, rather than the Facebook middleman, looks like an attempt to shirk some of their work.

3.  Turn off tag suggestions

After a privacy backlash, Facebook renamed its facial recognition software the friendlier “tag suggestions” to avoid scaring users away.  But don’t be fooled:  tag suggestions are facial recognition.  In Facebook’s own words, “If a friend uploads a photo that looks like you, we’ll suggest adding a tag of you.”  See below:

Facebook’s tag suggestions window.

Protect yourself by turning tag suggestions off.  Go to “Account,” then “Privacy Settings,” then “How Tags Work,” and make sure tag suggestions are set to “off.”

You can change your photo privacy preferences in the “How Tags Work” window.

4.  Turn on tag review

Would you rather A), let anyone (anyone, not just your friends) tag you in any photo without your approval; or B), be able to look tags over before they’re posted to your profile?  If you care at all about privacy, B is your answer.  And yes, anyone can tag you now.  Facebook quietly slipped in this tag free-for-all alongside tag review.

With tag review enabled, you’ll start receiving tag notices.  You’ll see them on your home feed as to-do’s, just like pending friend requests, messages, and comments.  You can then review pending tags and choose whether to approve them by hitting the check mark next to the item:

How a pending tag appears in Facebook.

Protect yourself by turning tag review on.  Go to “Privacy Settings,” then “How Tags Work,” and make sure tag review is set to “on.”

Make sure tag review is enabled.

5.  Use the new method of abuse reporting

If all else fails and you find yourself having to complain to the Facebook authority, at least they’ve made it easier to do so.  Clicking “remove” under a photo now brings up both the detagging and reporting options:

Detag or report, all in one place.

You can pick from five types of Terms of Use violations:  spam or scam, nudity or pornography, graphic violence, hate speech or symbol, or illegal drug use.  They don’t list copyright infringement here for some reason, but you can report those violations to Facebook here.  Note that “this picture makes me look awful” is not a reason for reporting it.

Of course, there are horror stories of users reporting serious violations and never receiving a response from Facebook, so the odds aren’t in your favor.  Just read some of the comments on Facebook employee Jessica Ghastin’s blog post, “Responding to Abuse Reports More Effectively.

The moral of the story?  It’s better to screen content before it’s posted than try to remove it afterwards.  Here’s a quick summary:

  • Before a photo is posted:  Use tag review, turn off tag suggestions, and be careful about what you post
  • After a photo is posted:  Detag, request that posters remove photos, and report violations to Facebook

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