Last month I saw a post titled, "Managing Your Identity on Facebook with Face Recognition Technology" from Facebook. The post goes into some details about how Facebook will recognize people's faces in photos uploaded to their system and notify them.
The notification only happens in the case when the person in the photo (let's call them the subject) is part of the audience for that photo. To illustrate this, let's look at a few scenarios:
- The photographer is a "friend" and uploads with privacy setting set to "Friends". The subject is notified. e.g. Photos from a party.
- The photographer is a "friend" and uploads the photo into a private group that doesn't include the subject. The subject will not be notified. e.g. Photos from an event uploaded to a private group of event organizers and staff.
- The photographer is unknown to the subject. Photo is uploaded to their newsfeed or photography page with privacy setting set to public. The subject will be notified e.g. Photos taken on a public square, or a public park.
- The photographer is unknown to the subject. Photo is taken on a public square, or a public park. It is printed and displayed at a museum. A third party takes a photo of that print and uploads it to their Facebook newsfeed with privacy setting set to public.
There are several other permutations but let's just consider the last two, which are most relevant here. Those are two scenarios of street photographers sharing their work. Street photography is as old as photography itself and has gained widespread adoption in the digital age due to its nature. As an avid street photographer, and a person who works in technology, I was concerned that this would be coming someday. This post talks about Facebook in reference to their blog post, but this is relevant for any social network.
My main concern is regarding the expectation of the subject when they become aware that someone has posted a photo of them. Perhaps they like it and share with friends and move on. For example, I took the photo above in Portland. About a year or so later I came across the woman with the green hair at an event and showed it to her on my phone. She really liked at and if I recall I ended up sending her a copy. That was a great experience all around.
But what happens when the subject dislikes the photo? Perhaps they have the means and let it be known to the photographer, who may then ignore them, or may remove the photo. This could get very tricky in that last scenario. Maybe the subject is offended and decides to take legal action. There are precedents. The most famous one I can recall was of a man in New York that sued the photographer. The court ruled in favor of the photographer since US law has wide leeway for photos taken in public places that have no expectation of privacy. More details in this article.
What’s most interesting is that at Facebook scale there are a lot more chances of such interactions happening. How people feel about it, how it is expressed over time, and how expectations evolve will likely have a significant impact on street photography as an artistic medium.
What do you think?