How to Remove Stolen Photos Online
As more and more people come to live their lives online via social media and sites around the Internet, the wall between one’s public and private lives is eroding at breakneck speed. The very definition of what might reasonably considered “private” in a world where every meal is photographed and posted to Instagram, and every thought and conversation are posted via tweet or wall post moments after their creation, is under scrutiny and up for constant debate.
Yet some taboos hold fast, and one of the last bastions of privacy—the right to keep images of one’s more intimate moments out of the public eye—has come under serious attack with the rise of a disturbing new trend known as “Revenge Porn.”
Victims find their photos (intimate and otherwise), along with personal contact information and social media profiles, have been publicly posted without their consent or knowledge. The perpetrator is often an embittered ex, but some victims have had their social media accounts hacked and their photos and information stolen by opportunistic voyeurs.
Whatever the manner of theft or the motive behind it, those violated by revenge porn suffer excruciating personal and professional humiliation, as well as a host of mental health challenges as they try to go on with their lives. Some victims have lost their jobs and received threats. One young woman even took her own life after being relentlessly harassed in the wake of being blackmailed and humiliated.
And because reposting information and images voluntarily submitted (either to a social media site or another person who was once trusted by the victim) is not yet a crime (although California is working on making it one), many victims find themselves with limited recourse when it comes to removing their photos from Internet sites.
Unringing the Bell: What You Can Do
“Limited recourse” is, fortunately, not the same thing as “no recourse.” Should the unthinkable happen, and you discover your personal photos publicly posted to the Internet, you have several avenues you can pursue to address the matter.
Write to the site’s administrator and ask that your photos be removed. It might seem like an unlikely solution to your problem, but many sites have official policies that assure content owners their requests to remove unauthorized content will be honored as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Sometimes, a simple “please and thank you” will do the trick. But remember to be vigilant in case the images resurface on the same or another site.
Send a cease-and-desist letter to the perpetrator. If you’re not getting a response to your polite request, it’s time to pull out the heavy legal hardware. Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you’ve a legal right to demand that content you own (like your personal photos and information) be removed from any site where it’s been posted without your knowledge or consent, and the site owner or operator has a legal obligation to remove your content quickly and completely if you issue such a demand.
Since the request can be rejected due to even minor errors, and the process can be somewhat complicated for folks who aren’t legal eagles, many people take advantage of a DMCA takedown service to ensure all their “i’s” are dotted and their “t’s” are crossed.
Also consider contacting the company that hosts the offending site. Hosting companies can apply additional pressure by threatening to suspend or even remove the site altogether.
Be relentless in your vigilance. Even if you don’t have reason to believe you have potentially compromising photos floating around in the less savory currents of the Internet data stream, protecting your reputation in the digital age requires a proactive attitude. Google Alerts allows you to receive notifications whenever your name (or other identifying information, like a nickname, your address, or phone number) appears in their search results.
Several tools are also available to help you monitor the Web for your photos. If your images have been stolen or posted without your consent on the Web, using a photo search plugin like TinEye or Google Image Search is a great way to ferret out any additional copies on other sites.
Just remember that any photos you upload yourself will be stored (in thumbnail format) for anywhere from 72 hours (TinEye) to, well, forever (Google). These images are ostensibly inaccessible to the public, but use good judgment when uploading any content that may not already be on the Web.
Case Study: How PoppyD Got Stolen Photos Removed From a Porn Site
How fashion blogger Poppy used our tool to get her photos removed.
One day, she had a nasty surprise: some innocent photos of her had been posted on an adult website.
Poppy admits to an initial feeling of “Wooooo, someone thinks I’m naturally beautiful, busty, skinny and thin!” (the site’s tagline) – but this was quickly replaced with concern when she discoverd that the site in question was ranking for Google serches for her name.
The photos weren’t pornographic or even, in Poppy’s words “the least bit sexy” – but some of the other images on the site left little to the imagination.
Poppy wrote to the site asking them to take down the images and promptly forgot all about it.
A few months later, Poppy received a message from someone who had Googled her name. Said porn site was now ranking #4 on Google for her name. Things had suddenly got rather more serious.
If you ask a site to remove images and they refuse or ignore you, you do have several options depending on the circumstances:
- If you own the copyright to the images, you can file a DMCA notice. Although the DMCA is a US law, many other countries (including EU members) will honour a DMCA action.
- You can request the site from which the images were stolen in the first place to do something. For example, Facebook and Flickr both have privacy policies regarding content hosted on their site.
If you decide to file a DMCA notice, the first thing you need to do is find out who is hosting the site. That’s where we come in. Just enter the domain in question and we’ll point you towards the host where you’ll be able to find the host you need to contact.
In Poppy’s case, a DMCA notice was all it took to have the stolen pictures she owned the copyright for removed.
We now offer a DMCA Takedown tool.