Why you shouldn't share those photos online

What's the worst that could happen to an image of yours that someone screenshots to use for themselves?

- someone posts your sunset image on Instagram pretending it is one of theirs

- someone takes your images and uses them to promote their own business (this happens to florist clients of mine all the time)

- someone posts a photo of your baby on Instagram or Facebook, pretending it is theirs (yes, this happens: Role Playing With Stolen Baby Photos)

- someone takes your image and then sells it for $90,000 (yes, this has happened as well: Stolen Instagram Photo Sells for $90,000)

- someone puts your family portrait on their stock photo site and you find out it's been used in adverts all around the world (this happens: Family Discovers Photo Used In Ads Around The World)

And there are worse things that can happen, which I can't even bring myself to type. 

How likely do you think it is for any of these to happen to you?

This is my most-stolen image on Instagram

This is my most-stolen image on Instagram

As with most things in life, it's unlikely that the worst thing will happen to your, or to your images online. But you can't pretend they might not happen. Many people have decided not to share any photographs of their children online at all, and most commercial photographers think twice before posting their most valuable work. 

Apart from not posting online in the first place, there are a few steps you can take to protect your privacy. None of these are completely foolproof. 

1. Instagram

You can keep your account private. Only people you pre-approve as followers will be able to see what you post. 

You give Instagram broad rights over your images:

"you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service's Privacy Policy, available here http://instagram.com/legal/privacy/" (from Instagram terms).

2. Facebook

Facebook privacy settings are hard to find, hard to manage and they change regularly. For example, even if you have your privacy locked down so that only friends can see your images, there's nothing to stop one of your friends sharing your image. And if they have their account set to "public", then that's shared with everyone on Facebook.

Did you know you agreed that Facebook can use your photos in its ads?

"...you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook" (from Facebook terms)

3. Google Photos

Is Google photos too good to be true? I'd say yes. You get free storage, free organisation, and free sharing with family and friends. But Google will index all your photos and use that information to target you with ads. It knows where you've been, how old your children are, what shoes you wear, what car you drive, what you drink, and so on. It shares all that information with its friends ("those we work with"). It has the broadest privacy terms of all:

"you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works ..., communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content" (from Google terms).

Other sites - 500px.com, Flickr, Blipfoto - will all have privacy settings and rights over your images. Dig a little and find out what you've signed up to before you start posting.