Protecting Photographs: Personal Information Security

Protecting Photographs: Personal Information Security

Photographs are records of our activities that a person keeps for memory and display. In the days gone by they were used only for the above mentioned purposes. The word Photography comes from two Greek words “photos” which means light and “graphein” which means to draw. Photographs are made through light or radiant energy recording a picture of an object or scene on a lightsensitive surface. The first permanent photograph was produced by a French inventor called Joseph Nicephore Niepce. He called it a Heliograph. Later he teamed up with another Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1829 to improve his process further and call it a photograph.

This beginning was followed by several refinements and photography became easier as cameras became more manageable, handy and movable. The image quality also improved by leaps and bounds. The process of developing the camera film in dark room using several chemicals and then printing them onto light sensitive paper – also evolved. First into a Polaroid camera which developed the film within and gave an instant print of the photo taken. The quality of such instant photos was often quite poor. Photography then moved into the era of digital cameras and photographs being saved in pen drives and other storage devices. They can be easily taken by amateurs (camera prices have drastically reduced) and stored in huge quantities to be retrieved as and when wanted. Also such images never degrade over time.

This revolution was followed by today’s world of mobile phone photography and social media posting of such photographs. This has changed everything. Every person equipped with a mobile smart phone has a megapixel camera in hand to record each and every event he wants without any problem. Once such a record is available and stored in a small device carried by a huge number of persons in their pockets or purses – the next stage of use of a photograph develops. As described in the beginning of this piece, the primary purpose of photography at its inception was – memory & record. Now the next stage has come and that is – sharing. In today’s world the concept of photo sharing has caught on. Sites like Instagram and Flickr are among the most popular social media platforms being used today. Instagram is used daily by 70 Crore people and 20% of all worldwide internet users use Instagram. On Instagram users have shared over 4000 Crore photographs, an astronomical figure. Similarly there are 12.2 Crore users of Flickr. Number of photos that have been shared on Flickr is an astounding 1000 Crore!!

Yes, the world of photography has come a long way. From being a precinct of the elite, being done by professionals and only for personal use – to the era of being done by common man, using a handy and small smart phone and primarily for sharing with other networked “friends”. But though the benefits of this metamorphosis are many, the pitfalls ad dangers also exist.

Several cases of misuse of a person’s photograph to damage his/her image or worse to commit all sorts of heinous crimes on the concerned – have come to the fore. The alarming fact is that these attacks are increasing and becoming more and more vicious. After all the photos that we post, all the time and every time, in the name of status updates etc – are misused by cyber criminals to do a social engineering attack on us. This can take many forms. They see the photographs and depending on that they engineer an attack on the victim – for money, job, relation, opportunity and so on and so forth. These criminals can also use the photograph for other devious crimes like cyber stalking, cyber bullying, cyber predating, cyber defamation and the like. They often apply the photographs for crime in the real world – like forgery, kidnapping, robbery, rape, murder and many other life threatening and grave crimes.

Recently a young girl had her photograph being “stolen” from her account and being used on another site for the purpose of luring customers to buy a product. Another young lady of Indore had her profile picture being downloaded and used on an adult dating site for illicit soliciting. She was shocked to say the least and was disturbed beyond control. Later the cyber bully even posted her number along with the photo and she started getting all sort of obscene calls from all over the country and world. Just imagine her plight and mental agony as a result of this demeaning action of the bully. Off course the cyber bully would be caught if she reports, but the damage to a large extent has already been done.

In this connected world there can be no security advice on the lines that one should not post ones photographs online and on social networking platforms. But the advice that can be given is that users (especially women) should be extremely careful and choosy while posting one’s pictures online, as this is our personal information and it needs to be protected at all cost. They should post as few as they can and stick to posting group pictures in preference to individual pictures. Facebook now provides a profile picture shield which prevents the downloading of such pictures – it should be used on a priority basis. If after all these precautions there is still an issue of misuse, then the victim of the misuse should not hesitate to approach the authorities for redress.