Web site photos: can we stop them being copied and posted to Facebook?

An East Lothian school had a query from a Mum wondering if it was possible to prevent children’s photos being copied from school web sites and being posted to Facebook. Our response contained advice on the use of Facebook privacy settings which may be of value to others, so we’re posting it here.

Many years ago, some people did try to create technical barriers to the copying of photos from web site pages. They were mainly professional photographers trying to prevent the theft of their copyright images. Trying to do that, though, has fallen completely out of favour for two reasons.

Firstly, it was always ineffective. People found ways to work around the barriers. For example, with modern high-res computer screens, you can hit “Print Screen” to copy anything on the screen to the Clipboard. From there, it’s a small step to pasting into Paint and saving as a new, surprisingly good quality, image. These days, people might grab a phone, and take a snap.

Secondly, it was guaranteed to annoy visitors to your site. It involves hijacking the controls they expect to be able to use in their browser, such as right-click. That is really frustrating when they want to use it elsewhere on your site for legitimate purposes, such as to open pages in new tabs. Experience showed that people just got fed up, left, and didn’t come back.

The bottom line, then, is that if you want to keep complete control of images you don’t put them on the web.

What we suggest you do here is take a different tack, and help the Mum to control the posting of images of her daughter to Facebook. In this case the image has come from the school site, but it could just as easily have come from a pupil’s mobile phone camera or another source.

What’s happening here is probably this:

  • “friend” uploads daughter’s image
  • Facebook’s facial recognition system is recognising her daughter, and suggesting that the friend “tag” her in the photo.
  • The tagging is making it easy for people – such as Mum – to discover the photo.

The tagging, though, is under the control of the daughter using Facebook’s privacy settings.

  1. Under Home (top right) choose “Privacy Settings”.
  2. At “Timeline and Tagging”, choose Edit Settings.
  3. Look for “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline”, and set it to On. (Default is Off.)

This will clearly not stop her image from being in the photos, or prevent them being uploaded, but will avoid advertising her presence in the photos, and make them much less easy to find.