Bold, Fun, & Nerdy

How photographers are making your right to privacy harder to manage

As a photographer, we are not normally called to partake in policymaking discussions. We are called to make our customers feel at ease and photograph them they way they want the world to see them. Who is the world though? That question which used to feel like it had a very known answer is now turning up stones we’ve never really considered before, and here’s how.

You may have heard tale of companies beginning to scrape photos off the internet of you. These photos have then been collected into a master database that was mobilized into app form and sold to law enforcement. The New York Times recently did a few stories on the company and coder behind this initiative, Clearview AI. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to go out and listen to The Daily’s episode today on the company. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, you’ll get a solid gist of the platform within the first 5 minutes or so.

This app is operational and in the hands of law enforcement. Here’s a very high-level look at how it works.

  • Clearview searches the open web for images of individuals
  • They catalog these images along with data about the individual
  • These are then fed into an app that law enforcement can use
  • Law enforcement can take a photo of you at a restaurant or the grocery story and it will search and find other images and information linked to that photo of you
  • Law enforcement now knows your name, who you are friends with, what you like to do. Basically, they know anything that is public on the internet.

Looking at Clearview AI’s website, these are the facts they list about the platform, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to begin extrapolating to more nefarious ends. As a photographer, we need to be cautious about how we feed into the issue of privacy and censure as the realm of high speed computing and artificial intelligence really begin to meaningfully take off in our lifetime.

It’s hard for us as photographers to respond to this though. Our business model is predicated on our ability to showcase our work to future customers which is an entirely visual sales initiative. If you poke around on some of the darker corners of the internet, there have already been many scandals of boudoir photos being leaked by hackers intentionally breaking into image hosting sites. Most of the image hosting sites, including Pixieset which is what I host my images privately through, have responded and tightened the cyber hatches so this isn’t possible anymore. The point is though, if your images are public, there is a non-zero probability they can be scraped. As we all know: if an engineer can build it, an engineer can take it apart.

So what can we do? How can we help our customers’ maintain their privacy as photographers? I propose a few solutions to stay abreast of these current unnerving trends which involve contract adjustments. I suggest a multi-tiered approach to contract adjustments. Each successive tier will reduce the customer’s session price:

  • Tier 1: Customers can choose to have all aspects of their session private. This will include no hosting on the internet at all. Sessions will be delivered via USB drive, so there is no chance of a platform being “hacked” and images scraped from the gallery. This will be the quoted session price which will be higher than your current going rate most likely, but they will have the ability to reduce it if they want. This is entirely up to them.
  • Tier 2: Images will be held privately on a web-gallery. No images from the session will be shared on social media, blogs, etc. Customers can have the choice of having the images removed from online within the following time frames. There will be no guarantees that images will be retained once they are taken offline. This session will be slightly less expensive than Tier 1, but not much so, because photographers can still not use the work to gain new work.
    • Immediately after viewing
    • 3 months
    • 1 year
  • Tier 3: Images will remain hosted on an online, private gallery however new customers can be sent the gallery to review the photographers work.
  • Tier 4: Images will be hosted online, in a private gallery, however the photographer is able to showcase images from the session on their social media. Images cannot be submitted to a blog without the customer’s approval.
  • Tier 5: The photographer has free rein to use the images how they want. This is the least expensive option and currently the industry standard.  

I also suggest print rights be awarded differently based on these scenarios, but I know so many businesses already have complex commercial models based on print rights, so I am leaving this out of my generalized Tiered structure approach given above.

The opt-in nature of this allows the customer control of what their session price is and also full control over their privacy rights’ exposure. For many customers, images of them online is a bygone issue. There are hundreds of photos of them online, and a photo session will not meaningfully change their presence and information scraped via companies like Clearview AI. That being said, many new parents may want to help their children manage their social media presence from birth. Perhaps they do not want images of them online until they are a certain age. We have never before had a population where this is a question they need to ask themselves, however it is one that I believe will become increasingly important.

I welcome thoughts, comments, concerns! This is an important issue to me, and I think the photography community needs to have a thoughtful response to the changing privacy paradigm even if we retain our old policies.