Spotlight on: Using Your Real Photo for Your Profile Picture - the Pros and Cons
By Rachael O'Halloran
Published September 20, 2014
Your Profile Picture
Do you use your own likeness for your profile picture?
My Idea Of The Perfect Profile Picture
I Really Thought It Would Be Okay ...
About four years ago, I was digging in a box of old photo albums looking for a generic photo I could use as a profile picture on Google. I came across an old photo of myself that my husband had snapped while we were on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida over twenty years before. It was a picture of me in a bathing suit at about age 38, sitting on a beach chair, with a floppy hat on and big round pink sunglasses.
My face was not hidden by the hat, but you couldn't see my eyes because of the sunglasses. Since it was not a very identifying picture, I thought it was good enough to use as my profile picture on Google. I figured it beat using a picture of the family dog or cat that everyone else seemed to be using.
So, secure in the knowledge that no one would recognize me on the street from this beach picture, I scanned it into my computer and cropped it to fit into Google's profile slot. Because Google owns Blogger, as expected, it immediately went to my blogs on Blogger.
Then I put it on my Facebook account.
Little did I know that within 30 minutes, it would be stolen (copied) and put on someone else's Facebook page with their name on it. (A friend alerted me that a woman in her gaming group had a profile picture that could have been my twin. Well, I knew that wasn't possible, so I went to her wall to have a look. I can still remember the woman's name!)
Now believe me when I tell you that this photo was just obscure enough that it could have been "anybody", and really - anybody could have gotten away with saying that it was their photo. But I knew it was mine.
Because after I scanned it into my computer, I used Picasa (a photo editing program) and typed my name on the photo (sometimes called a poor man's watermark). I placed the text along the straight edge of my leg toward the center of the picture, using very faded text. You would really have to look for my name to be able to see it. But I knew where to look and of course, it was there.
I always watermark all my photos the same way, whether they are photos of me, family, our pets, or pictures I make using photo editing programs like Pizap. Somewhere in the photo, the discerning eye will find my "© Rachael O'Halloran" usually along the hairline, the pant leg or an arm sleeve, but never on the outer edge of a photograph.
Placing your text on the outer edge of any photograph might be comforting to you so that you and everyone else knows the photo is yours, but you have just made it so much easier for "an unscrupulous someone" to crop your name off and use your photo as their own.
Maybe they don't have a picture they are willing to share, or maybe they are on the FBI Most Wanted List. Who cares why they take other people's photos? They just do, and you'll need to protect yourself and your photos, if you care about them.
By burying the text somewhere in the photo with very light colored text, YOU know it is there, but they don't.
Once you have had your photos stolen, or experience looking at a stranger's name on your face, you'll get real smart real quick.
So, instead of confronting this Facebook thief, I saw that her friends were tagging themselves in all her photos which meant that she had her settings set to allow tagging.
So I tagged my name on my own photo on her Facebook wall.
- Tagging is when you go to someone's photo, click an area and then type your name on the photo, save and your name disappears from view. Then, when someone holds their mouse over the picture, all those who tagged themselves light up on the screen. Their name also appears on a list of names either to the side or under the picture and in any searches done using their name.
It took her over four hours to figure out that the Rachael O'Halloran who tagged her photo was the same person she had stolen it from. When I asked her to remove it, she refused, saying the photo was hers.
So I reported her to Facebook. A fat lot of good that did.
Rachael O'Halloran's Cat, Laying Next To His Daddy's Extremely Beat Up Recliner!
I hope they steal this cat instead.
Facebook Has A Presumption of Guilt - Not Innocence
I guess if the picture had been clearer, Facebook would have believed me when I said this woman stole my profile picture.
But they didn't believe me. They believed her.
They wanted me to prove who I was. Huh? My driver's license is my typical show of proof, but even that would be no good in proving this 20 year old photo was mine.
Trust me, I don't look like that anymore. My Irish black hair has been replaced by salt and pepper colors and my once perfect size 2 is now a size 8. That bathing beauty in the picture might as well be a stranger.
So I told them where to look for my name which was watermarked on the photo and that's how I got my photograph back.
Well ... I didn't get it back exactly. Facebook made her take it down, but she got to keep her Facebook account. She probably still retained a copy of the photo on her computer and she could still be using it today, for all I know. I quit Facebook shortly after and I haven't had a Facebook account in over two years.
Your Privacy Rights
Your Rights On The Internet - Do you have a right to privacy?
Free Resources (Examples below)
Example of Avatar Generator
Example of Cartoon Maker
BuiLD YouR WiLd SeLF
Your Own Photo Makes You Look Friendly
Many people use their own photo on the internet. They want their online friends to know what they look like and to be able to put a face with their name. They might also want everyone to know they have the right Jane Smith when they see their photo next to their name.
They don't give a second thought that someone might steal the picture, or photo-shop the likeness into another picture or maybe even put it into a "suggestive" background.
All websites will tell you that you own your content, that it is your "intellectual property" and that you can control how it is shared by using your privacy settings, especially on Facebook.
It is up to you to safeguard your content with these settings. But how many people on Facebook have their settings set to PUBLIC, not FRIENDS?
Many. Even me. That's how that girl was able to get my photograph.
What most websites don't tell you is what to do when someone takes your photo as their own.
Oh, some do have some kind of a remedy in place and other sites may tell you to duke it out with the copyright infringer.
Yes, copyright infringer. Because that is what they are. You own the photo of your likeness and they stole it, so that makes them a copyright infringer.
So if you haven't guessed what I'm about to tell you, here is the remedy.
Facebook has their own guidelines in place, as lame as they are, so this won't apply to them. If any webmaster doesn't give you satisfaction, you will have to file a DMCA form with Google (and other search engines) to have their site removed from searches, then contact their hosting site to have the site taken down. When it is taken down, so should your photo.
But it will always be in the internet's cache, like a ghost.
So, what do you do about all the other sites where they are still using YOUR photo as their avatar?
- like when they won 39th place at Zynga poker and their name and your face is in the top 100 slots?
- or when it's on a blog that is not hosted by Google?
- or when it's on Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr?
- or if they are using your photo to advertise their services on Fiverr, Freelance or other business sites?
It is a lot of legwork, and in the extreme case, you might be looking at filing an actual lawsuit. Unless ....
- You just don't use your own photo as your profile picture, OR
- You don't care if someone takes your photo in the first place.
(On Left) My Avatar Adapted From The Painting Of The Flower Girl (On Right) By Emile Vernon (1872-1919)
The Artist Emile Vernon (1872-1919)
Emile Vernon was born in Blois, France in 1872 and studied painting under the French genre artist Auguste Joseph Trupheme (1836-1898). He exhibited one painting at the Paris Salon of 1898. By 1904 Emile Vernon exhibited his first flower painting at the Royal Academy. He is best remembered for his scenes of pretty young girls with flowers. He died at age 47.
1. Once a week, Google your name - both your screen name and your profile name
- Anything that your name has been associated with will be in the results. If someone copied your articles on this site, you might learn of it this way. I did.
- After you look at the list of results, click IMAGES. Any image that is even remotely associated with your name - uploaded to HubPages articles, profile pictures past and present, family pix, etc. - will be in the IMAGE results.
2. Once a week, right click ANY of your personal photographs and select SEARCH GOOGLE FOR THIS IMAGE.
- This will show you if anyone is using your photographs for personal use, on blogs, or sites like HubPages.
3. Once a week, with an EMPTY cache (clear browsing data), select at least three keywords that are the topics of your hubs and enter them one at a time into any search engine. See what everyone else is writing about on your topics.
4. Set up Google Alerts for your name and the names of your kids and spouse to check for identity theft. The choices are "as it happens" or "daily." I usually set it up "as it happens" for the first week or so, then go to daily. It takes Google at least 24 hours to start notifying you.
5. If you must share stuff with your real life friends and family members, don't do it online. Have them over to dinner (if you are so inclined) or send them a Christmas update.
As you can see by my avatar, I do not use my own photo on the internet.
"The Flower Girl" is by French painter, Emile Vernon (1872-1919). The photo on the left is my very slight manipulation of Emile Vernon's print which I presently use as my profile picture.
The photo on the right is a copy of Emile Vernon's original print with its vibrant colors, hazy backgrounds and shadows on her face as cast by her hat. I know it is the proper way to paint someone in the garden, whose face is shielded by a hat, but I wanted a clearer picture of her face, so I played with the colors and lighting.
Because Emile Vernon's works are in the public domain (pre-1923), I can adapt or manipulate his print any way I choose, without securing permission or paying a licensing fee.
If you are not going to use your own likeness,
Please make sure for whatever photo you do use:
- 1) that you own it
- 2) that you didn't steal it from someone
- 3) that have permission to use it, in writing when possible, or
- 4) that it is in the public domain.
I was going to stop here and move on to discussing some cool programs to make profile pictures, but something funny happened on the way to the next text capsule.
Originally I wrote the following sentence in this space: "Please see the gallery I posted at the end of this article to enjoy more of this fine artist's work. Perhaps you might find one to your liking to use as your avatar."
However, I received an "alert" message at the top right of this article that some of my photos were pixelated and/or low resolution. So I started removing them one by one, to figure out which one was the culprit.
By the time I removed all 16 thumbnail photos, only then did the message go away, which means either I finally found THE ONE, or ... that all of them were unacceptable. lol
Since Emile Vernon actually painted them that way, and almost all Impressionist paintings are faded, blurry or somewhat muted, there was nothing I could do about the low resolution.
But I was mad now because I wanted you to be able to see some of the other beautiful works of art he painted and I didn't want to link to someone who would probably take down their article at some point in the future and then I'd end up with a broken link notification.
So ...... desperate times call for desperate measures.
I had joined YouTube back in March 2014 but never made a video because I honestly didn't want to take the time to learn how to do it. It wasn't at the top of my list of pressing matters.
So today, I decided it was "do or die" day. Because I wanted to show you these paintings and I wasn't about to give up on finding a way to do it, I spent the better part of yesterday downloading and trying to learn numerous "absolutely FREE" video-making software that promised they were "easy to use" - and did I mention Free? - except almost all of them were 30 day trial uses. After that, you had to become a paying customer. I also tried Vimeo, Go-animate, Microsoft Movie Maker, and about four others.
Needless to say, I felt hopeless. I wanted to do this myself, without asking a family member for help. But I'm not hearing enabled, and I couldn't get the hang of any of them. Half of the videos didn't have closed-captioning or transcripts. Watching wasn't enough; I needed the transcripts to read what I missing in the audio portion. Then after making the video, you had to convert it to another type of file to be able to upload it to YouTube - it was just too much for me to comprehend and a whole boatload of frustration for me.
What face do you want the internet world to see?
It could be:
- your dog
- your cat
- your newborn baby
- your house
- your car
- your favorite splashes of color
- choices from my sidebar suggestions (Cartoon or Avatar Generator)
Whatever you choose, it has to be
- yours, (as in - it was gifted to you or you personally snapped it) or
- free to use, (as in free of copyrights) or
- public domain (see charts)
- used with permission - get it in writing because people forget or renege on their word
The good news about profile pictures is that you are not stuck with the same one forever and ever. You can change it daily, and on some sites, even hourly.
The bad news is once you use a photo as a profile picture, a cache copy is in the search engines and at some point it will show up in a search as associated with you and/or your name.
Then I saw that YouTube has a free Video Editor Creator and I had a V-8 moment. I had seen it before and promised myself I'd look into it but you know how it is, things get put in your "to do" pile and promptly get forgotten.
In less than two hours, I had a slide presentation made and uploaded, approved by their Quality Control and was able to insert it into this article to show you Emile Vernon's beautiful paintings!
So instead of low resolution pictures, my very first YouTube presentation is what appears at the end of this article!
I hope y'all appreciate the trouble we go to for our readers! lol (joke)
My only regret yesterday was wasting time on useless garbage programs that have now downloaded their cookies and Adware on my laptop. They will be biting the dust as soon as I hit the PUBLISH button on this article.
Anyway. Your avatar is important because it defines you and identifies you, just like your screen name does, whether it is your own name or your "made up" name.
Decide what face you want to show to the internet because even if you take it down, the internet has a long memory.
My First YouTube Effort
I'm proud to say that not only are the photos public domain (Thank you to Emile Vernon and to France, his country of origin!), but I used public domain music to play in the background.
So turn it up!
It is called "Waltz of the Flowers" (by Tchaikovsky) and I thought it was very fitting since this painter loved flowers and gardens.
If you have a YouTube account, and if you would like to try it out, here is the link to YouTube's Video Editor. If I can do it, you can do it. It was so easy.
Shameless plug: If you would like to "subscribe" to my Channel, here is the link:
Rachael O'Halloran, September 2014
© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran