Twitter’s New Privacy Boost Is Just a Start

Keeping images private is a challenge

Key Takeaways

  • Twitter’s new privacy rules are a step in the right direction, but experts say more needs to be done to protect users.
  • Implementing Twitter’s new policy will be a challenge. 
  • Privacy advocates say social media services need to do more to protect users.
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Twitter's new privacy policy is unlikely to make a dent in the growing misuse of personal data on social media, experts say. 

The company will prohibit users from posting photos or videos of people without their permission, the company said recently. Twitter said that tweeting such images can violate someone's privacy and potentially lead to harm against them. But implementing this policy will be a massive challenge. 

"I really don't think this new policy will be workable, considering the huge number of images being posted on Twitter each day," Chris Hauk, a consumer privacy advocate at the website Pixel Privacy, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Photo Stop

Twitter said that enforcing the new policy will require a first-person report of the photo/video in question (or from an authorized representative).

"Sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person's privacy and may lead to emotional or physical harm," Twitter said in a blog post

But the prohibition of users posting photos or videos of people without their permission is mainly symbolic since there is no real expectation of privacy in public places, pointed out data privacy lawyer Ryan R. Johnson in an email interview with Lifewire. 

"The measure will, however, bolster Twitter's privacy credibility as it aims to set itself apart from its much more privacy-invasive, controversial counterparts like Facebook," Johnson added. 

There's still confusion about who Twitter's new policy covers. The policy will not apply to posting identifying information about another person if there becomes public interest in that person, Andrew Selepak, a media professor at the University of Florida, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"The problem is that Twitter users do not know how this policy will be applied moving forward," Selepak said. "What will make a person someone of public interest? It could be someone who had been doxed, and then information about them could be allowed based on Twitter's policy. Could it cover whistleblowers, or would Twitter then consider the public to have a right to know who those whistleblowers are?"

Twitter has stated that the policy is intended to protect women, especially those who have been assaulted or accused others of sexual assault and harassment. And while this could be seen as a good thing, Selepak said, it assumes the guilt of those charged as it may not protect the identity of the person accused. 

"The challenge is that everybody has the power in their pocket to take an image or video of someone else and easily share it with the world."

"We also don't know who will determine who receives this new protection and who will determine who is a celebrity or who is a person of public interest," Selepak added. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Twitter's new policy may be exactly that if it is not applied fairly and uniformly. But only time will tell."

More Privacy Needed

Twitter isn't the only social media service trying to increase privacy. For example, Facebook allows users to limit photo viewing to Public, Friends, Friends Except (excepting some friends), Specific friends. 

Only the user, and a custom option that allows users to pick and choose who can, sees their photos, Hauk said. In photographs uploaded by other users in which you're tagged in you are limited to removing the tag with your name. If the photo doesn't violate the social network's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, it will not be taken down.

Privacy advocates say social media services need to do more to protect users' privacy. 

"The challenge is that everybody has the power in their pocket to take an image or video of someone else and easily share it with the world," Lynette Owens, the global director of Internet Safety for Kids & Families at Trend Micro, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Somewhere in this process, we need to introduce more friction without infringing on people's right to expression."

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More rules could have the paradoxical effect of hurting users, some observers say. Restrictions like Twitter's new policy will offer harassers more tools to intimidate and annoy legitimate users online, privacy advocate Shaun Dewhirst told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"More focus needs to go on identifying these abusive users and targeting their actions specifically," Dewhirst said. "The only way to stop online trolls and bullies is to remove their cloak of anonymity, not with blanket changes or grand gestures."

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