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Point, Shoot, Then What?

Neighbors with new babies recently shared photos of the little ones via Flickr. That got me thinking -- again -- about my online photo service allegiance. Over the past six years, I've had good and bad experiences with photo sharing sites.

First there was Kodak EasyShare Gallery. The site was my favorite five years ago. Great paper and print quality. But then the quality slipped. Whole sets of photos arrived with an odd yellow tint. When a friend had the same thing occur on a specialized photo book, I knew it was time to try out some competitors.

Next up a couple of years ago was Snapfish. The prints were cheap and looked good, but the paper was thinner than the Kodak paper I'd become accustomed to. Livable, but maybe there was better. On to Shutterfly, I went. So, far, I've been sticking with their service. The photo colors seem accurate and the paper is thick, photo quality.

Regardless of where I get the prints made, I've appreciated Picasa's free and intuitive storing software to save, edit, and upload with ease. But the photo sharing landscape has changed tremendously in the past couple of years. Should I pay to use Flickr Pro? Is the most popular photo sharing site of them all, Photobucket, the way to go?

Flickr appears to have good sensibilities regarding privacy. In its rules of engagement, it recommends, "Take the opportunity to filter your content responsibly. If you would hesitate to show your photos to a child, your mum, or Uncle Bob, that means it needs to be filtered." The site allows you to designate photos as public or private and set up private groups to show off your fun kid moments.

But how well does all that work?

Meredith Massey says not so well. About four months ago, Massey posted three images in which her children happened to be naked in Flickr along with more than 50 other photos. Sensitive to the content and the Web medium, she made the photos private and did not keyword or caption them. Almost two weeks ago, she noticed that the three photos had been viewed thousands of times. In comparison, other photos had about 20 views. She immediately removed the photos and contacted Flickr. The only responses to her three e-mails were e-mails about checking her privacy settings.

Flickr's help forum also concurs that the system's privacy settings are not foolproof. Photo urls (those that have .jpg in the file name) are available for all to see regardless of whether a photo is marked private or public.

In response to my e-mails questioning how this could happen, Flickr sent this response from spokesperson Terrell Karlsten: "In accordance with Flickr's policy, we cannot disclose information to third parties concerning a member's account. Flickr takes these cases seriously and encourages members to contact us through the 'Report Abuse' link at the bottom of every Flickr page when these types of problems arise. We value hearing from our members and encourage them to provide us with feedback."

Hmmm. I'll be sticking with my tried and true methods. Shutterfly keeps my photos private unless I choose to share them.

How do you prefer to store, share and print your family's digital photos? What are the pros and cons of the service you use? Does Massey's story make you think twice about how you store your kids' photos online?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies , Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers
Previous: Stressed? How About Your Kids? | Next: Maternity Leave


I will be changing my allegiance to Shutterfly based on this. And that is a seriously creepy story from Meredith Massey. There are a lot of freaks in this world, and the internet gives them plenty of room -- hell, it gives them encouragement -- to act on their disgusting proclivities.

Posted by: wtf | February 19, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I am totally flabbergasted that anyone would put naked pictures of their children on the Internet, even IF it was supposed to be private.

Posted by: jen | February 19, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Jen - it's just plain dumb to put pictures like that on the web regardless of privacy assurances. stuff happens, mistakes are made, firewalls are breached every day! frankly, flikr's suggestion about filtering content is excellent, except that the rule should be used to determine whether something should be uploaded AT ALL, rather than whether it's labeled public or private. there really is NO privacy on the web and everyone ought to know that by now.

Posted by: two terrific boys | February 19, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the above posters. While it is disturbing that her pictures were viewed in spite of her private setting-it's stupid to have put them there anyway.

I usually print my pictures at Costco (at the recomendation of a good friend who is a children's photographer-she prints all of her personal photos their as well)-they are cheap, accurate and I can do it easily from my livingroom and either have them sent to me or pick them up ext time I go shopping.

We have snapfish and picasa accounts, but we don't upload often-so I can't say I would necessarily recomend either.

Posted by: Momof5 | February 19, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Of course there's another option - if you are determined to share your pictures online, you can always get your own domain name (which costs anywhere from $10-$35 annually) and set up hosting at one of many low-cost hosts (costs anywhere from $50-$250 annually, depending upon the features you select - I recommend checking out to look for reliable hosts).

Many hosts offer "one-click" installations of all sorts of basic Internet software these days - including photo gallery software. So with a little patience, you could password protect your photos and upload (or remove) them in a more controlled environment. I won't go into snore-inducing details here, but this is getting easier and easier to do these days, especially if you possess mid-level computer skills and knowledge.

It's not necessarily pretty or perfect or completely private (unless you go the lengths of buying your own servers and dedicated Internet pipeline at home), but it's a lot more private than using a public photo-sharing site.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | February 19, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

In flickr, if a "private" photo is included in a "public" set, that photo inherits the privacy settings of the set and thus becomes public. To keep private photos from being available generally, it must not be included in any public sets.

Flickr is correct -- have your friend check the privacy settings of the set in which those pictures are included.

Posted by: flickr user | February 19, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

I have accounts at most of the sites mentioned but have been disappointed with all of them, particularly with the quality of the printed photos you can order. My solution is to use adobe photoshop album and organize and store my photos on my computer. We also keep back-up disks and use a data storage system. If I want my friends and relatives to see photos---I either print them out myself (I have a good printer and use photographic paper), put them in a photo book and mail it out to them, e-mail the photos directly to them (after I make them a smaller size) or share the photos through tivos home media service (which I understand is only accessible to others who you authorize and who must use the password). But mostly I don't send photos, instead every year at holiday time I put together a collage of photos, print them out and include the collage with my holiday card (for those that have expressed interest in getting photos from us).

For the most part I do not post photos of my children on the internet (clothed or otherwise). I don't even allow summercamps, schools or other groups to post my childs photo (even if they will not be captioned). We need to be serious about protecting the privacy of our children.

Posted by: montgomery village md mom | February 19, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Google's Picasa program is an excellent free photo editing software, and a good online service with decent privacy settings.

Posted by: Kim | February 19, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

You have to presume that any photo (or other item) you post on the Internet can and will be seen by the "whole world".

Even if a particular service's rules were easily understood (see: the comment about Flickr's rules above) and worked perfectly (assume there were no software glitches in any software ever written), there's still the issue that the service's employees and contractors have access to the site; employees of the ISP that provides access can potentially see material traversing their wires; and you never know the path that the photos take from the Internet server to your computer.

I seriously agree with jen - under no circumstances should you ever put "naked pictures" of your children on-line.

We store and maintain all of our digital pictures on a laptop that's not used for any other purpose. (It was our oldest daughter's high school laptop; she got a new one when she entered college.) We keep backups on DVDs we burn. If we really want to share something, we either e-mail the photo or snail-mail a disk. When we want prints of specific pictures, we usually dump those pictures to a disk and take/send the disk to a printing service.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 19, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I Snapfish since I like the print quality enough and the sharing is one-to-one and you don't have to fret about public/private settings.

Anytime we use online services, even protected ones, we have to assume a certain level of trust when it comes to the employees and practices of the company; yes, it's a small leap of faith, but the world would be a lonely place if I assumed the worst of everyone all of the time. Taking prudent steps to protect kids is essential, of course, but so is expecting that online services will do everything to protect public trust in their product.

Posted by: Reading in Reading | February 19, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Stacey Garfinkle clearly doesn't understand what she's doing on her computer. I bet she's an AOL user too. The problem is many of the non-internet savvy readers (which is many who still read the WaPost) will freak out about this column and cancel their accounts. Buh bye.

My private photos on Flickr have only been viewed by me. But that's because I can follow the third grade instructions on the privacy settings.

She's got two separate thoughts in this column, choice between online photo services and the privacy setting in Flickr.

I would add the quality of the online services differ between having them mailed to your home vs picking them up at Walgreens or Target. The quality of the photos I've picked up from these in-store 1 hour photo labs are poor at best.

Posted by: VA Patriot | February 19, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm astounded anybody would put photos of naked kids on the internet. Lots of pervs out there. But you people are accustomed to co-bathing and co-sleeping with your kids. Having unknown wierdos peeping at them shouldn't matter. Why not just get 35mm film and have it developed at Fotomat. Or better yet, find a Polaroid and you can take all kinds of pornography of your own kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 19, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I also use Shutterfly to order prints, but have become a huge fan of Picasa Web Albums to share them - and I can set each album (although not at the picture by picture level) as private or public.

Posted by: NYCGal | February 19, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I usually just print them out on regular paper. Then again, I take far fewer pictures than some of you must--and I seldom have a need to share pictures online. The few times I do, I just compress and send by email. I have heard good things about Costco and Walmart printing, and that seems much easier than any other method (other than printing your own, but I don't have a photo quality printer and don't intend to buy one in the immediate future).

Posted by: low tech | February 19, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It is suprising that ANY personal photo would be anything but private. Why is there even an option to keep them private? But equally suprising is the thought that a photo that is put on the web would be ever thought "safe".
Think about it:
Where are you photos uploaded to? Magic photo land? Are they just floating around in the Web in some phantom "safe" photo zone? Your photos are saved on a physical server, they become the property of whoever owns the server.
So the issue is not about how other people saw your photos, but why did you put them there in the first place?

Posted by: Confused in Pa | February 20, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

For our kids online pics, I pay to have my own domain and site hosted on a dedicated web server. I password protect the picture pages and change the password once a year. Only family and close friends get access. Also, ensure you use secure file transfer methods to get the pics on to the web site. You know people are sniffing about your cable and DSL connections. Runs about $15/month btw.

Posted by: Rico | February 21, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm astounded anybody would put photos of naked kids on the internet. Lots of pervs out there. But you people are accustomed to co-bathing and co-sleeping with your kids. Having unknown wierdos peeping at them shouldn't matter...

Someone must have damaged you pretty awfully, at a pretty early age, to screw you up so badly. I feel so sorry for your children, if you have any...

Posted by: ibc | February 21, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Anything, and I mean anything that anyone puts on the web, if a person is determined to see it, they can. Once you post it, it's there basically forever. Who knows how many copies of those pics were made before they were removed.

Posted by: ralahinn1 | February 21, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I agree that its simply not a good idea to put personal photos on the internet, because you never never know who may have access to them. That's scary. It sounds like one person stumbled across the photos and then spread the word that there was some "legal" child porno out. I myself would have never taken nude pictures of my children, much less post them on the internet for the whole world to see. I also never would have allowed them to go skinny-dipping. Call me old fashioned, but some things just should not be done. I wonder too, why the mother did not simply e-mail those pictures to her parents, or snail mail them, since she knew they were of a private nature? Well, again, I never have and never will take nude pictures of my kids, so I can't relate.

Posted by: washingtongirl | February 21, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

ibc, if you think bathing with children is normal and OK, you're the one that's messed up.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

On-line privacy is an illusion.

I use and privacy is one of the main reasons why I picked it over the other options.

In addition to password protection, unlisted web pages (need to URL to access the photos), smugmug also gives me the option to google protect the images (prevent google from indexing them).

My issue with Shutterfly is that if you don't buy photos from them, they will delete all of your galleries (read the TOS). With Picasa, in the TOS, it states that you grant google an unrestricted license to use your photos.

Smugmug is one of the few that I trust... unlimited photos storage and very good privacy options. It's good enough for me.

Posted by: -april | February 21, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Putting photos in a sets on flickr does not make them public, even if the set has public images in it, the private ones will remain private.

Putting the photos into a group is different in that all members of the group can then access them. What happened in all likelihood is that the photos were added to some child photo group within flickr and thus made public to group members.

Posted by: walwyn | February 22, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

If people are looking for super private photo sharing, 2pad is the newest answer.

2Pad is in its Beta phase and was created as the answer to privacy when it comes to sharing photos or videos online. Although social networking sites are growing more popular everyday, users also want an application where they can share their media privately with personal contacts. 2pad is the answer to those users that value such privacy. Users share their media from their gallery, those who received the shared media are then able to view the files in their own personal 2pad galleries.

It's a breath of fresh air for parents.

Posted by: Susi Doring | February 24, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

When I have digital photos I want to share with my family I copy them to our MSN shared one sees them except the accout holder..

Posted by: patricia | February 24, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Shutterfly is not effective for sharing, however. They just use email invites, and those can get passed along to anyone. Their service is geared towards ordering prints, which it is very good at. For secure sharing, try Pixamo- I couldn't be happier with it. Secure privacy groups. Period

Posted by: Joe | February 25, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I have tried my best to notify all online web organizations, and their users about these dangers. There WAS a website that linked exlusively to family photos with nudity. The organizations were not very helpful for me either. I spent hours on Picasa trying to warn parents that their photos had been linked and they deleted the comments, and booted me off for spamming. More information:

Posted by: Thor | May 3, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

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