PrivacyWe live in a social era, where posting images to Facebook and Flickr is (to many people) second nature. Whether you’re an avid uploader or the occasional photo-sharer, posting photos online is not without risks, especially to your privacy.

To ensure your photo privacy online, you’ve got to take a few basic steps:

1. Don’t put them online. I know, I know – what kind of advice is that? But the truth is, once you’ve uploaded your images to a third party’s servers, no matter how reputable, they’re at risk. Flickr accidentally deleted one users account, wiping out 4,000 photos.

There’s also the risk of the theft. Organizations like WikiLeaks, which publish secret government and corporate documents, have demonstrated that in the information age, it’s very hard to safeguard private files. Suffice it to say, if you’re really, reallyconcerned about photo privacy, don’t upload your images at all.

2. When you do put them online, read the fine print. Chances are, you’re not going to heed point one (and that’s fine, we’re just covering our bases). But when you do select a website to upload photos to, be sure to read the fine print. Yes, it’s tedious, awful lawyer-speak, but it contains important information about how your photos are treated and what rights you have should you feel your privacy has been violated. We took to time to read some of the fine print on the leading photos sites (see here) but there’s plenty we haven’t covered, and it’s important that you familiarize yourself with those terms if you’re concerned about your privacy. (Check out this 8-step explanation of Facebook’s photo privacy rules for more.)

3. Disable Geo-Tags. Geo-tags are pieces of information inside your photograph that tell people where you were when you snapped the picture. Combined with time and date stamps, geo-tags can help snoopers discover where you live and your daily patterns. If you shoot a lot of photos with a smartphone, like the iPhone or an Android phone, geotags are automatically added to your images. Eye Fi memory cards can also add geographical coordinates to images and some cameras offer built-in GPS chips for geo-tagging purposes. In all three cases, you’ll have the option to disable geo-tagging if privacy is a concern.

While you probably don’t want to disable geo-tags for your big European vacation, it’s a good idea to disable them if you’re shooting around the house or in your neighborhood. A new app for iPhone owners called deGeo can remove these geo-tags for you before you post them to sites like Flickr. Geo-Eraser performs a similar function for Android phones. Eye Fi cards and GPS-enabled digital cameras can also disable their GPS functionality fairly easily (Eye Fi is controlled via software and most cameras and camcorders can turn GPS on and off via a switch or in the camera menu).

4. Strip the metadata from your photo before you post it online. Every digital photo you snap contains information inside of it: the camera used, the various settings and resolution of the image, the focal length of this lens and, if you have GPS capability, your location. This information is called “metadata” and programs can access this information from your online images whether you want them to or not. Now, most of this information is harmless. It doesn’t really matter if someone knows the aperture of the lens in a specific photo. But if you don’t like the thought of any information traveling with your photo as you upload it, you can strip the metadata from your photograph using a free program such as JPEG & PNG Stripper.

5. Remember your audience. Depending on your photo-sharing site of choice, you may be posting images for public consumption or in invite-only galleries. If you’re sending them to Facebook, your friends will see them and if your privacy settings aren’t set to maximize your privacy, there’s a chance others can see those images as well. So, common sense rules – if there are people out there that hold a grudge or are of questionable ethics (none of your friends, of course) keep galleries private and keep the photos off Facebook. (You can learn about Facebook’s photo privacy settings here.)

If you’re concerned about your photo privacy online, but still can’t resist posting to Facebook, take heart: you’re not alone. A new service called X-Pire launched in January that allows you to put an expiration date on your Facebook images. When the date is up, your images disappear from the service. Odds are, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to software that will let you keep posting your pictures online while retaining greater control of your photo privacy.