Privacy Issues for Online Personal Photograph Collections

By Cunningham, Sally Jo; Masoodian, Masood et al. | Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Privacy Issues for Online Personal Photograph Collections


Cunningham, Sally Jo, Masoodian, Masood, Adams, Anne, Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research


Abstract

Technological developments now allow community groups, clubs, and even ordinary individuals to create their own, publicly accessible online digital multi-media collections. However, it is unclear as to whether the users of such collection are fully aware of the potential privacy implications of submitting their personal contents (e.g. photographs, video, etc.) to these digital collections. They may even hold misconceptions of the technological support for preserving their privacy. In this paper we present results from 18 auto-ethnographic investigations and 19 ethnographic observations and interviews into privacy issues that arise when people make their personal photo collections available online. The Adams' privacy model is used to discuss the findings according to information sensitivity, information receiver, and information usage. Further issues of trust and ad hoc poorly supported protection strategies are also presented. Ultimately while photographic data is potentially highly sensitive, the privacy risks are often hidden and the protection mechanisms are limited.

Key words: Online Collections, Photograph Collections, Image Collections, Privacy Issues, Trust Issues

1 Introduction

Online collection of multi-media content, such as digital libraries, can be both empowering and excluding. Increased information access has powerful social ramifications [2], [1] that are not always fully understood. Furthermore, increasing information access can often change social structures and organizational norms. It is therefore only reasonable to assume that personal digital collections would try to avoid these social consequences. However, the personal desire to share information and the need for privacy is a continual battle that personal resources are caught in the middle of. Information ownership is a complex field relating to copyrights, intellectual property rights, policy and legislative initiatives [7], [33]. The individuals' perception of information privacy and trust in online digital collections is often overshadowed by these issues. Yet it is the individuals' perceptions that guide how these resources will be used, misused or avoided. Understanding the end-users' perceptions of privacy and trust is vital as the role of digital resources in organizations and personal usage is changing. For instance, in the case of digital libraries, Holmstrom [23] highlights the importance of privacy in the changing role of such libraries and those that support them. It is argued that these resources are changing from assets with librarians as asset managers to those of resources with librarians as customer relationship managers. Holmstrom [23] argues that we have become too sensitive to privacy issues and that this has over-restricted digital library development. However, a clear guideline for digital library developers to support them in acceptable end-user digital library development is not given.

Photographs are increasingly being used as documents in personal online collections. The ability to personalize these resources is a strong motivation for users to develop and re-use them. But much of the enjoyment of photographs comes from sharing them (e.g., showing friends where you've been, marvelling over how quickly children have grown, and recording special moments for geographically dispersed loved ones). Digital resources have increased the ease with which we can share this information. But with sharing comes risks, and potential privacy invasion is a major source of worry for developers of the systems for management of online digital collections, as well as their end-users.

Personal photos pose special concerns regarding privacy, in that images may convey a more nuanced and layered impression of an individual than many common types of text / factual data (eg, location information as gathered from a GPS device, financial transaction data from commercial websites, etc.). Adams and Sasse [4] distinguish between the primary level of information that can be inferred from data-the core financial, medical, commercial, 'facts' conveyed by the data-and the secondary level of information that includes interpretive and qualitative inferences such as emotional state.

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