Six Steps to Protect Your Photo PrivacyWe live in a social era, where posting images to Facebook and Twitter 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. Facebook has been caught restoring posts and images that were supposedly “deleted” by a user.

Suffice it to say, if you’re really, really concerned 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 or app 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.

3. Develop proper tagging etiquette.  Let’s say you’re the type of person that uses Facebook but avoids posting personal images there. Unfortunately, personal images can still find their way online through your friends who upload them and “tag” you in them. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) tell other people what they can and cannot do online, you can certainly inform anyone who posts/tags images of you or your children online how you feel about that.  You can also untag yourself, which disassociates your name from the photo.

The reverse is also true. If you’re an avid Facebook user with no reservations about posting your images online, you should still respect and be aware that other people in your social circle are not so inclined. It seems only proper to ask any individual who appears in a photo if they care to be “tagged” before you go ahead and do it. It also seems only proper not to tag anyone under 18, who is  not a consenting adult. Additionally, don’t tag anyone who isn’t on Facebook, since they do not have the ability to untag themselves if they so choose.

4. 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 before you start snapping photos, 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.  Alternatively, you can remove the GPS coordinates before you upload. An 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.

5. 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 the 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.

6. 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.)