From baby showers to funerals, street photography to office parties, just about every aspect of our lives is documented and stored in the cloud indefinitely.
And if you don’t want to be photographed — well, you’re just about out of luck. You can try and police people at private gatherings, but the proliferation of smartphones and cameras means that your face will end up online sooner or later.
But a new badge aims to try and give people back some control over their image — by signalling to algorithms that the wearer doesn’t wish to be photographed, so their face can be automatically blurred in images.
It’s about maintaining control about how photos of you are shared online
“The easiest example for us I think is children,” Maurice McGinley, design director at AVG Innovation Labs, told Business Insider.
“You might think that people at a party know they’re at a party and they have got their photo taken and that’s fine — they’re adults. But in the case of children, they often aren’t in control, aren’t aware their photos are being taken … and decisions are being made for them about their image, about their online identity, that can affect them far into the future. Because these images stay available on the internet once they’re up there.”
The Do Not Snap badge is, well, just a badge. A physical, wearable symbol. But it works by pairing up with software capable of identifying this symbol in an array of settings, which will then flag it up and automatically blur the face of the wearer on whatever platform the photo is on.
Upload a photo of a friend wearing it to a social network and that network could censor out their face, for example — respecting their wishes not to have images of them shared online.
It’s up to social networks to decide whether to honour the Do Not Snap
AVG Innovation Labs has open sourced this badge-recognition-software to encourage its adoption, but there’s no obligation on the part of social networks and online platforms to integrate it. Just wearing a badge doesn’t mean it’s illegal for people to take or share your photo — but McGinley thinks that it’s not just about legality.
“I do think it’s rude to share image of people who do not want their images shared,” he said. We don’t have a right to privacy in public — but “it’s right for people to respect their feelings.”
Think of it as a real-world equivalent of “robots.txt.” Robots.txt is a file that you can place on your website that tells search engines and online archives not to index and create copies of your site. These crawlers don’t
have to honour it — they can go right ahead and index a web page that has robots.txt without anything stopping them.
But most choose to respect the owner’s wishes.
Though you can download Do Not Snap’s code today, don’t expect to see it in Snapchat or Facebook in the coming months. McGinley doesn’t currently know of any plans for it to be integrated into commercial products or social networks. But at the very least, he hopes that it will encourage greater debate about online privacy and controlling one’s image.
“We’re trying to spark conversation and contribute something meaningful,” he said. “I think people aren’t aware of the need, and they aren’t aware of the threat, until privacy’s gone, so the first step is always to raise awareness.
“As technology becomes more integrated into our ways our [online] identity is becoming essential to our functioning in civil life — paying taxes, registering to vote … if your online identity is compromised it can really stop you functioning as part of society now.”