Facebook Photos Coming Back To Haunt Users In Surprising Ways

from the privacy-is-an-illusion? dept

There have been a bunch of stories lately about how pictures that people put up on Facebook are coming back to haunt them in unexpected ways. First, we have the case of Adam Bauer, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student who had been careful about who he friended, but chose to accept a friend request from an unknown user, because "she was a good-looking girl." Turns out that the "good-looking girl" was actually the La Crosse police, who ticketed him for underage drinking because of a photo on Facebook of Bauer holding a drink. This reminds me of a case we wrote about six years ago, involving a woman who posted some naked photos of herself at some locations around Lincoln, Nebraska -- leading the police to charge her with violating local no-nudity laws.

The other story that a bunch of folks have submitted was the case of a woman who who lost her disability insurance benefits because of photos on Facebook. She was on sick-leave due to a diagnosis of depression. Yet, somehow the insurance company got access to her Facebook photos that showed her out having fun -- at a birthday party, on vacation and the beach and at a Chippendale's show. Now it's entirely possible that there was insurance fraud going on. Or, it's also possible that someone who had been diagnosed with depression was trying to put her life back together. It's a bit difficult to think that an insurance agent looking at photos online is better at diagnosing the situation than a trained doctor.

In both of these cases, the issue is that photos might not tell the whole story. Making major decisions based just on some photos uploaded to social networks seems fraught with potential problems. I could certainly see using them as part of a larger investigation, but it doesn't seem like that was the case in either situation. But, in the meantime, it's a reminder that your privacy is increasingly disappearing -- and you may be surprised about decisions that others make about you based on what you assumed was perfectly innocent activities.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Ummm, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 6:33pm

    How do they prove the beer can in the picture actually contained alcohol ?

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 7:32pm

    So taxpayers are paying the police to play on facebook, create fake accounts, and spend time looking at photos of parties and naked women.

    Surely they can outsource this section of their job description to the taxpayers quite willing to provide this service for free.

     

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  3.  
    icon
    adam (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 7:37pm

    Insurance Fraud

    I heard a bit on CBC about the woman who lost her benefits. The insurance company has stated that they will not discuss specific situations but that they don't look at Facebook for such things. I suspect there is more going on there than meets the eye and that this is a case of "let's sensationalize this because it's related to the Internet," which is disappointing because I thought CBC was a bit better than that.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 7:43pm

    Re: Insurance Fraud

    Yes - many times insurance is fraud.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Charlie Potatoes, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 7:56pm

    Right to Privacy

    I'm pretty much rabid about right to privacy, as well as government intrusion into my quietly desperate life ... but I think that anyone stupid enough to post such things on their own site deserve the flak they get. Natural selection will settle it all eventually anyway.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    FormerAC (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:00pm

    Re:

    Better yet, how do they prove he drank it? The article said it was a picture of him holding the beer. Not drinking, holding.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:02pm

    Even if they are stupid enough to post these photos they must be making everything public for non-friends like an insurance agent to be browsing their photos. It's not that way by default.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Another anonymous coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:20pm

    If you are in the same network as a person, sometimes their profile will be accessible, if they have not made the profile private. (some of my networks and some of my friends).

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Jesse, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:52pm

    Somewhat off-topic:

    My aunt was in a bad accident (her as the pedestrian against a car). The insurance agent got a hold of her x-rays. He had the gall to say, "I don't see any fractures here, I don't think you need much compensation." Right. Because all of a sudden you are a medical doctor? The x-rays were taken to rule out fractures, nobody claimed otherwise. Doesn't say anything about soft tissue injuries or head trauma.

    Point is, insurance agents can be pretty low down.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:55pm

    Re:

    Or that he was drinking it.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 8:59pm

    Re:

    Worse, broken bones don't hurt. And they typically heal stronger than they were, if they're set correctly.

    But soft tissue damage can be with you forever.

    I have a substantial collection of both.

    She should have enlightened him with some soft tissue damage of his own, so he'd be in a better position to make his assessment.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    CAS, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 9:12pm

    Re:

    Lets not forget that it's possible other people posted these pictures. I've had to untag myself in some unflattering pictures, but unfortunately, they're still out there in the ether.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 9:39pm

    Re:

    Point is, insurance agents can be pretty low down.

    Even worse, they're allowed to play doctor.

     

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  14.  
    icon
    Pjerky (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 10:39pm

    Re:

    I would gladly shoulder this burden for our society. Its to make this a better world, really it is!

     

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  15.  
    icon
    Pjerky (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 10:42pm

    Re: Re:

    AC Wrote: "Even worse, they're allowed to play doctor."

    I think I got in trouble for doing that as a kid...

     

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  16.  
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    Pjerky (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 10:44pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    ...continuing comment

    So if kids can get punished for it, why don't insurance agents? Seems only fair, especially since they should know better. (OK, I am stopping here with the stupid commentary).

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    McBeese, Nov 30th, 2009 @ 11:37pm

    Bogus

    Being charged for holding a beer is bogus. I'd simply state that it was someone else's beer or I had put ginger ale in the bottle so I could fit in with the cool kids. Either way, unless they can produce that exact bottle or a witness, case closed.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    good lawyer gets this tossed, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 12:44am

    bad joke

    the fact is unless htere is actually beer in the cna or hte law of the land says he cant pick up empty cans then any good lawyer will simply say "can you prove there was beer in that is it 100% sure unless the twit said yes to it.

    IN which case i have no sympathy
    IF YOU CAN"T BE SOLID TO YOURSELF....who can you be solid for.
    Shows bad character at minimum and sheer stupidity at worst.
    AND what if the girls pic had been under age.....OH we know where that would go next....facebook home of champions

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Ryan Diederich, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 3:23am

    I've seen this

    I have several facebook friends (not close ones) who drink a lot. Any pictures they put online they black out the can. You know they dont do it so their parents dont see, everyone knows what it is.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    paybacksabitch, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 4:15am

    Reward for shots of cops in criminal acts

    I suggest someone set up a website where people can post pictures/video/details of LaCrosse Wisconsin police who are incriminating themselves, such as by having too many beers after a night out at the bar. I have been at a number of police-related social events, and can tell you some drive home intoxicated. some have even gone back to work after having a couple of beers 'with the guys'. I'd like to know what the police are doing in their off-hours, and perhaps we the public should demand the police get urine tested on a weekly basis, and cameras installed inside their homes to show us, the regular citizen, how police lead exemplary lives. They have nothing to fear, do they?

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 5:23am

    Re: Re:

    I agree - but I think there are laws about possession

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 5:41am

    Re: insurance company lady...

    How can the claim adjust practice medicine with out getting into trouble. Secondly if they are a train doctor then they have violated general rule that you can NOT do a remote diagnostics, the doctor must physically see and talk to the patient.

    Reminds a case of a poor guy that has been on disability due a tragic work place accident. I know him so his life generally sucks due to long term injuries. Any ways every time there change in the insurance claims office they cut him off with no notice. He then has to fight with them of 8 months to get his insurance back. He has been on disability for nearly 30 years now and has had his insurance abruptly terminated around 8 times. After the 5th time he got legal aid and has a standing court order that they can not cut him off... but that has not stop the insurance company... they play around and delay reinstating his claim... even after threats from the courts.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Tim of Angle, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 6:11am

    Facebook

    Live by narcissism, die by narcissism. Go, Darwin.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:09am

    Facebook's EULA says they own the information you submit to the website.

    While I was student teaching, someone in my group had a friend who worked for a company that vetted possible employees being considered for a job. Her friend told her that Facebook sells access to companies looking to find out more about potential employees by bypassing all privacy settings to look at user profiles. This means that, regardless of your privacy settings, Facebook will still allow companies to look at your profile if they pay for the privelige.

    Although it's not widely known, Facebook is basically a data-mining scheme.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:22am

    This does not seem legal

    If an officer came to your door in disguise and "pretended" to be, say, a salesperson, and then charged you for evidence they found when they came in, wouldn't the evidence be thrown out? Sure, there are undercover officers, but they have to have this thing called a warrant. They can't lie about their identity in order to access evidence on private property without a warrant. How is a private Facebook account, to which you must be "invited" as a friend, any different?

    Second, how does that photo constitute proof of anything?

     

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  26.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:40am

    Proof

    Seems like the best response in such a case would be to ask to see the proof (beyond a reasonable doubt, of course) that the beverage in the photo was alcohol. The fact that you’re holding a glass (assuming it’s even transparent and not one of those typical plastic red cups that are ubiquitous at college parties) filled with amber liquid in a picture is not proof of what that liquid actually is. Apple juice? “Near” beer? Many possibilities.



    It’s the state’s job to prove the offense and a photo of someone with a cup in their hand doesn’t quite do it.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Yakko Warner, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:58am

    There is no privacy here

    I maintain the opinion that any internet website is not "private", but "public". If you post pictures on a website, you've put them out in public (no matter what so-called "privacy settings" you may have turned on).

    As such, I have to disagree with the tone behind "your privacy is increasingly disappearing". This is not the same as the public suddenly having access to the shoebox of photos you have in your closet through no fault of your own; this is a direct result of you (using the same "you" from "your privacy..."), to use an old-school metaphor, putting your own pictures on public access TV.

    Your privacy is not disappearing of its own accord (in this case); you are surrendering your own privacy by using these services.

    Decide for yourself if the benefit of connecting with friends is worth the cost of non-friends "connecting" with you.

     

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  28.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Dec 1st, 2009 @ 8:02am

    Re: Re:

    Worse, broken bones don't hurt.

    Uh... wha? Your bones must be different than mine, 'cause my broken bones sure as heck hurt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Dec 1st, 2009 @ 8:09am

    Re: This does not seem legal

    One difference is that you do not own Facebook or anything you post there, Facebook does. So you don't really have any legal standing to challenge their actions, and sure as heck FB isn't going to stand up for you.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Damien, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Re:

    Proof? Because if you've got it you've pretty much got the ammo needed to destroy Facebook overnight.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Dustin, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 8:25am

    Re: There is no privacy here

    "I maintain the opinion that any internet website is not "private", but "public". If you post pictures on a website, you've put them out in public (no matter what so-called "privacy settings" you may have turned on)."

    Good for you. Would you like a cookie with that opinion? Are you also of the opinion that anything you store on a computer that's connected to the internet is public as well? I've heard the opinion expressed, and it wouldn't surprise me if you shared it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 1st, 2009 @ 8:59am

    Re:

    "Facebook's EULA says they own the information you submit to the website."

    This was true at one point, but is no longer. Here's their EULA: http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

    Here's the relevant sections:

    You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.


    For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ("IP content"), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ("IP License"). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

    [Emphasis added]

    And from their privacy policy: http://www.facebook.com/policy.php

    We don’t share your information with advertisers without your consent. (An example of consent would be if you asked us to provide your shipping address to an advertiser to receive a free sample.) We allow advertisers to choose the characteristics of users who will see their advertisements and we may use any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected (including information you may have decided not to show to other users, such as your birth year or other sensitive personal information or preferences) to select the appropriate audience for those advertisements. For example, we might use your interest in soccer to show you ads for soccer equipment, but we do not tell the soccer equipment company who you are. You can see the criteria advertisers may select by visiting our advertising page.

     

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  33.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Dec 1st, 2009 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: This does not seem legal

    You do retain ownership of the stuff you post there.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: This does not seem legal

    Actually facebook SHOULD stand up for him, as the police were certainly violating facebook's TOS, by posting a fraudulent profile.

    The police have absolutely no case here, all he has to do is say that he picks up beer and soda cans for recycling, they have no proof otherwise, and there's no law against possessing a beer can by anyone of any age unless the police can prove its contents, and they can't do that from a photo. Even if he labeled the photo "me drinking a beer", they'd need to physically prove it for it to stand up in court (otherwise the statement is just hearsay, and inadmissible).

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Yakko Warner, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: There is no privacy here

    No, I do not share that opinion. Why would you assume that?

    You can keep your cookie, and the chips contained therein. It goes well with the one on your shoulder.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 3:35pm

    Re: This does not seem legal

    If an officer came to your door in disguise and "pretended" to be, say, a salesperson, and then charged you for evidence they found when they came in, wouldn't the evidence be thrown out?

    Huh? You're joking, right? It's called being "undercover".

    Sure, there are undercover officers, but they have to have this thing called a warrant.

    Umm, no, not at all.

    They can't lie about their identity in order to access evidence on private property without a warrant.

    Are you making this stuff up all on your own or did someone actually tell it to you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 3:38pm

    Re: Proof

    It’s the state’s job to prove the offense and a photo of someone with a cup in their hand doesn’t quite do it.

    In this case he admitted to it to the police. I don't think much evidence is needed after that.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Right to Privacy

    since when do jail time and fines stop people form having kids and living?

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2009 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re:

    true i have yet to post a picutre of myself but any one can post anything and have it show up on my profile

     

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  40.  
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), Dec 2nd, 2009 @ 8:40am

    Re: Re: Proof

    > > It’s the state’s job to prove the offense and a photo of
    > > someone with a cup in their hand doesn’t quite do it.

    > In this case he admitted to it to the police. I don't think much
    > evidence is needed after that.

    Well, sure. I was suggesting an alternative strategy that should have been used by those accused. Rather than just confess and plead nolo, they should make the state do its job and meet its burden.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    AW, Dec 3rd, 2009 @ 3:19pm

    There's a difference between being undercover and committing fraud. An undercover agent targets specific individuals to take down large syndicates. The person is just wearing a pretend identity. Fraud is saying you are someone completely different than you are, i.e. posting a picture of someone you are not. There was no probably cause to target the specific student, they were fishing plain and simple. The other side of this is, if the student does fight it, he will likely be removed from school and targeted for any infraction because police want to exert their authority, like every group of spoiled children.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Planetwebfoot, Dec 7th, 2009 @ 11:40am

    Privacy Reminder

    I like your final statement in the article where you say "it's a reminder that your privacy is increasingly disappearing -- and you may be surprised about decisions that others make about you based on what you assumed was perfectly innocent activities." This article is just a reminder that we have to be just as cautious online as we are offline, and if someone wants to find dirt on us they may not have to go very far.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    april, Dec 9th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Anonymous Coward

    actually, the default for facebook IS for everyone to be able to see your profile (or maybe just everyone in your area).... you actually have to go in yourself & CHANGE it so that only your friends can view your profile... not everyone realizes they can change that

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    april, Dec 9th, 2009 @ 3:42pm

    Re:

    my uncle is a lawyer AGAINST insurance companies... the sad thing is that this situation w/your friend is the NORM... insurance companies need to be regulated so this doesn't continue.. it's not fair to PAYING customers & people that deserve their claim to be paid!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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