Regardless of your feelings about Anthony Weiner and his sexting story, the reality is that he’s hardly alone out there. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 6 percent of adults 18 and older have sent a sexually suggestive, nude or nearly nude image to someone else by text.
Weiner’s celebrity as a congressman lent a viral nature to his sexts because his high profile made him easy to recognize. But that doesn’t mean a demise like Weiner faced couldn’t happen to you. A jealous ex-boyfriend could post pictures of you out of revenge, or someone working in your home or on your computer could find that video you made with your spouse that was supposed to remain private, and next thing you know, you’re the new Internet star.
What makes these scenarios scarier are the advances being made in face-recognition technology. Facebook has already demonstrated this capability on a mass consumer basis, and it would only be a small step to put a name with any face in a photo that’s been leaked.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a Weiner-like position?
Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, is in the business of helping people clean up Weiner-like messes. Once a photo is posted on the Internet, he says, it’s rare for photos to pop up on more than two or three sites. On that kind of scale, you can always request that a photo be taken down from a site.
In rare cases, Fertik has had clients with a photo that has been posted to more than 2,000 sites, but he classifies those cases as exceptional. And usually that’s because someone with malicious intent is actively spreading the photo. If your photo has reached these whack-a-mole proportions, with it popping up everywhere, a service like MyReputation ($129 per year) can help eradicate them.
Fertik also points out that the most likely scenarios are people inadvertently sharing a photo themselves, a friend sharing a photo or someone being in an image just because they happen to be on the scene. Of course the last doesn’t apply to naughty photos, but could for other compromising situations.
So if you’re insistent on sharing photos with your friends, is there anything you do to prevent your photos from leaking? Fertik says, “Nothing. Any photo you take and post will be leaked and archived somewhere.”
You can minimize your risks by using software that lets you track and delete your photos. For Facebook, there’s the UProtectIt plug-in for Firefox or Chrome Web browsers. It enables you to authorize people to view photos you upload and revoke authorization at any time. If your thing is naughty texts, there’s TigerText, which lets you time out a text or delete it.
Finally, don’t think Fertik's advice doesn’t apply to you. “Just because you’re a decent person and living a decent life, that doesn’t mean the Internet reflects that,” he warns.
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