Last week, Google announced a handy new upcoming feature for Google Photos: the ability to hide your sexy photos in a Locked Folder where friends can’t accidentally swipe to it. OK, sure, Google didn’t come right out and say that’s what it’s for, but we all know it’s not for photos of your secret dog. However, a hidden folder is only one part of a balanced privacy diet. Here’s how to be safe from start to finish if you decide to take and share photos of yourself.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: The surest way to ensure that nude photos of you never end up somewhere you didn’t intend is to not take nude photos. Just like the surest way to avoid pregnancy or STIs is to never have sex. But it’s important to recognize that abstinence-only education is incomplete. So, while remembering that not taking nude photos is an option (and no one should ever pressure you to take compromising photos of yourself), this guide will focus on how to stay safe without resorting to digital abstinence.
Make Sure You Trust the Recipient
As with any intimate act, sharing nude photos or videos of yourself requires trust. It’s a good idea, before you even take the pictures, to know whether the person you’re sending them to might share them with someone else or keep them longer than you agree to, or whether they can be trusted to delete them if you ask.
Unfortunately, figuring out how to trust another person is a bit too complicated for a guide like this, but here are a few red flags that might indicate it’s better to hold off:
- You’ve only known them for a short time. Hormones can make anyone seem better, safer, and more exciting than they actually are. If you just met someone and you don’t yet know a whole lot about them, it’s never a bad idea to wait.
- They’re pressuring you to do things you’re uncomfortable with. If you’re not comfortable taking photos of yourself, and your partner’s response is, “C’mon baby, I need to see you!” that’s a big red flag that they don’t respect your boundaries.
- Your personal or professional reputation would be harmed if the photos got out. Depending on the industry or community you work in, it might not be much of a scandal if photos of you got out. In fact, some communities exist to support people voluntarily sharing their photos with strangers. However, you are never required to be part of that group. If you think your work, family, or friends could be affected, it might be safer to skip the sharing, even if you trust your partner.
No matter what, remember the number one rule: You should always be able to say no. Not just to taking or sharing the photos initially, but anything that comes after. If you don’t want a partner to share your images, post them online, or store them somewhere unsafe, or if you want them to delete the photos at any time, you should be able to ask for that. If someone tries to take that option away from you, they’re not respecting your consent and they might not be a good person to share sensitive images with.
Crop Out or Hide Identifying Features (and Data)
It’s entirely possible, even with a partner you trust, for photos of you to get out. Your phone or your partner’s phone could get hacked, a wayward gallery app could be left open, or someone who used to be trustworthy could break that trust. Regardless of the circumstances, one key way to minimize harm if that happens is to make sure the pictures you take have as little identifying information in them as possible.
This can include cropping photos to cut out faces or identifiable parts of the background. If you crop out your face but there’s an artwork on the wall that your family knows is yours, the picture could still be traced to you. Blurring or censoring tattoos is a good idea (your phone usually has tools you can use to draw over images), but also keep in mind that the location of tattoos itself can be used to identify you.
Also, don’t forget to remove identifying data. If your phone’s camera automatically adds location data to your photos, turn that off. Photos also come with a ton of other embedded information called EXIF data. Stripping that information from your photos before sharing them will help ensure that no one else can figure out when, where, and how a photo was taken.
Turn Off Cloud Backups, and Store Photos Privately
Once you take photos, you’ll want to keep tabs on where they end up. This can be tough if your phone is backing them up to your desktop, tablet, and the cloud before you’re even done taking them. To avoid this, you have two options: Either turn off cloud backups or use a different app that doesn’t automatically back up photos. For example, while Snapchat has its own cloud backup features, taking photos with Snapchat won’t automatically back up to Google Photos. So you could take normal photos with your regular camera app, but take more risqué photos using Snapchat and save them locally just to your phone.
This is also where features like Google’s Locked Folder or Apple’s Hidden albums come in handy. Google’s version will only keep a copy of anything in the Locked Folder on your phone, which prevents it from accidentally showing up elsewhere. While Apple still allows iCloud to sync files that are in a Hidden album, those files will stay hidden on all the devices they’re synced to.