Taking Control Of Online Identity, One Picture At A Time

Taking Control Of Online Identity, One Picture At A Time

What personal information is the government getting from web companies? Which friend may be filming what’s going on right now through cameras integrated into glasses?

Is a potential future employer going to use web search to find an embarrassing photo from an indiscreet party moment?


We are more concerned than ever about online privacy these days. And for good reason. Now is a great time to consider the respect we all expect, and deserve. We can re-establish what are the right online behavioral norms.


At some point or another during the last five years, many people have heard from a desperate friend, or relative, or significant other, or spouse, or colleague. It’s that urgent plea to take down a recently posted photo for any one of many reasons ranging from not looking good in the particular image, to concern about having been at an inappropriate location. And sometimes that’s addressed too late, and the damage has been done.


We all have different opinions about what’s sensitive and what’s not sensitive for online viewing. Ultimately, shouldn’t we all be able to decide for ourselves how and where and in what we appear?


This seems a basic online right. A person should have control over access to his or her own image, without having to resort to hiding behind a mask or running about under cover of darkness (the effect of which is wiped out anyhow by flash photography).


Fortunately, today’s technology can give us back control over where we appear, just like today’s technology gives us capabilities to spread ourselves seemingly everywhere, if that’s what we choose. We are starting a new company to address this need by leveraging these capabilities, and below is how we do it.


Facial recognition software is getting really good. You may notice that when a photo gets uploaded, certain online services immediately, automatically and pretty accurately tag the people in it. And when something’s wrong, or missing, finding that and filling it in manually is easy.


Combining these facial recognition techniques with today’s frictionless communication can drive a simple system of requesting and getting permission for the people in the photos. All faces can be blurred except for people granting permission for the particular photo. Once someone approves of being shown, the face becomes unblurred.


The person posting the photo should be able to first put it in a sort of holding area while requesting permission, to wait and see how approvals come in, before sharing the picture.


Also, there could be rules to make the whole system run more smoothly. For example, some people may decide to always allow photos of themselves to be posted. Some might decide to allow only for certain people to do the posting of them without requiring approval, or maybe everybody except certain people.


Another powerful element of this system is capability to change one’s mind. Maybe that keg stand picture was great while in college, but it’s not consistent with the sort of image being projected during a job search. This service would be a central repository where someone could go through all permissions granted, and elect to retract certain ones (or, just as easily, grant new permissions). If the system acts as a central platform for permissions, interacting with major online services, then it can be one place to drive how a person appears via Facebook, Twitter, Picassa, Instagram and everything else.

Ultimately this system is about respect. Its principle is that people should have more control over how they themselves are presented online. By practicing this, the person posting extends this courtesy to every impacted individual, and is freed from having to go through the mental gymnastics of anticipating which picture might aggravate which person who’s in it. That’s the movement we’re starting.

Seth Kenvin


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