Hidden risks: photo tags
Photo tags create a map of your relationships and activities
When a friend tags you in a photo on Facebook, it does more than just send you a notification. Tags can inadvertently disclose sensitive details about your social circle, family relationships, hobbies, job or school, and even the locations you frequent.
With photo tags on Facebook:
- Your stalker could find your best friend’s name and that you hang out at that cafe down the road
- The creep building a fake profile to impersonate you could identify exactly who to friend request and DM
- A fraudster could harvested specific details about your vacation to mention in a phishing email so it seems even more authentic
- A harasser could gather more training images to create offensive or upsetting deepfake pictures of you
- A troll could start tagging you in very inappropriate pictures and all your friends and family would see them when they visit ‘pictures of you’ on your profile
Fortunately, you have more control over this feature than you may think. Consider the potential risks below, and then decide if it’s worth taking a few minutes to update your settings.
How existing photo tags can be weaponized
Detailed knowledge of your behavior and relationships is the foundation of a wide range of online attacks:
Impersonation and fraud
By studying your tagged photos, an attacker can gather enough information to impersonate you online, creating fake accounts or profiles to deceive others. Fake accounts can be used to:
- Defraud your loved ones by pretending to be you and asking for money
- Steal money from strangers with employment scams that leverage your reputation to seem legitimate
- Create the appearance of real support for conspiracy theories or political causes by using your persona as part of a sock puppet or astroturfing campaign
This same personal information can be used in phishing attacks that target your loved ones or colleagues, enhancing the messages they send with references to your life and activities that make the scam seem more convincing.
Stalking and harassment
Trolls often expand their hateful campaigns to include sending upsetting or intimidating messages to the friends and loved ones of their targets. Photo tags offer direct links to the profiles of people in your life you value most, making this type of escalation easier.
Tags can also expose locations you frequent, which can enable attackers to cross over into stalking in the physical world more easily. And unfortunately, by collecting all the images of you that other people have taken and centralizing them in a single album on your profile ("Photos of You"), Facebook has made it easy for harassers to collect training images they can use to enact image-based violence like deepfake porn.
Tagging as harassment
If you use the default settings for your account, tags themselves can be used as a form of harassment. Attackers can:
- Tag you in upsetting or embarrassing pictures, which will then automatically show up in the “Pictures of You” album on your profile
- Tag you in a benign photo but defame, harass, or threaten you in the photo caption
- Direct other trolls to your profile quickly by tagging you in pictures designed to make others angry
How to control photo tags on Facebook
Unfortunately, it’s not 100% possible to stop people from tagging you on Facebook, except by deleting your account. But there are some steps you can take to limit the visibility of any tags that show up, and reduce the risk they pose. Privacy Party can help you quickly update your settings and review your existing photo tags, or you can handle it manually by following the steps below.
If you choose to do so manually, be sure to leave yourself at least 30 minutes to find the settings, update them, and review your photo tag. If you have more than 50 existing tags, you may want to split your review into multiple sessions; review can be quite time-consuming if you have a large number of pictures.
Review and approve tags of you manually
Enable the "Review Posts I’m Tagged In" option in your privacy settings. This allows you to maintain control over the photos you're tagged in and prevents unauthorized tags from appearing on your profile.
Routinely check your tagged photos and untag yourself from any images that compromise your privacy or make you uncomfortable. Open a dialog with the person who posted the photos, politely asking them to remove them if necessary. Do not hesitate to report inappropriate photo tags to Facebook directly.
Review and approve tags people add to your posts
Turn on the "Review Tags Added to My Posts" feature in your privacy settings. This feature alerts you when someone tries to add a tag to one of your posts, and allows you to approve or reject the tag.
Wondering what other problems are lurking in your social media settings? Privacy Party can help identify risks, offer expert recommendations, and automate settings updates to save you time.