How Marketers Are Spying On Your Selfies: What Social Media Sites Aren’t Telling You

You might be surprised to find out those selfies you post on social media sites reveal more about you than your new haircut or your bikini bod. They are being used to build an online profile of you that you know nothing about.

Marketers such as Ditto Labs are using image scanning software to mine the photos posted on social media sites such as Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, and they aren’t just looking at the brands we prefer. They are checking facial expressions and the backgrounds of pictures to help them better understand social media users.

“If I looked at two years of your photos, I could tell a lot about you,” says Ditto Labs CEO David Rose on the company’s blog. “I could see if you’re a sports guy or a foodie…”

According to AdWeek, another service called Piqora downloads and stores thousands of images on its servers to identify trends for its clients.

So those selfies you post are helping marketers figure out what type of clothes you prefer, where you like to hang out, who you are hanging out with, what you like to eat, what you are drinking with it, and how much you are enjoying yourself while you are doing it.

A little scary, isn’t it?

All of that data is then analyzed and sold to big advertisers such as Coke and Kraft, who use the information to build profiles targeting social media users with the type of ads that will most tempt them to buy their products.

This screen shot posted by the Wall Street Journal shows an example of the photos that Ditto Labs scans.

Marketers an learn a lot about you from your selfies

You can also see a live stream example of the software scanning photos on the Ditto Labs website.

Social media sites allow these companies to scan your photos through software code called application programming interface (API), hoping that eventually the companies who are buying the information will spend money to advertise on their sites.

Most people are aware that marketers have been mining tweets and social-media posts for the past few years, looking for trends or brand loyalty – maybe you’ve noticed that the ads on Facebook are for products or services you have “liked” or searched for? But image-mining is potentially more invasive because our photos are less edited for things we don’t want to reveal than our text posts. Rose himself admits that most people don’t understand the images they upload can be scanned for information.

Privacy watchdogs, such as Joni Lupovitz of the children’s privacy advocacy group Common Sense Media, are concerned that the sites aren’t clearly explaining to users that their photos can be scanned or bulk downloaded by these marketing firms. In fact, we might not even be aware that someone else has posted a picture of us online.

“This is an area that could be ripe for commercial exploitation and predatory marketing,” she told The Wall Street Journal. “Just because you happen to be in a certain place or captured an image, you might not understand that could be used to build a profile of you online.”

Although the U.S. Federal Trade Commission does require that websites be transparent about how they share user data, there is no hard and fast guideline and unfortunately the rule isn’t always interpreted the same by everyone. Making matters worse, the privacy policies on some sites are not very clear, and few of them mention image scanning software because the technology is so new.

The most popular photo-sharing sites say they do inform users that publicly posted content may be shared with their partners and that they take action when the rules are violated. Private photos allegedly would not be available. However, even sites like Facebook, where most users keep their accounts private, still allow marketers to scan profile pictures.

What does this mean? If you post your photos publicly, a marketing firm is probably looking at them – and they aren’t just admiring your new haircut. With online privacy is becoming more of a concern after events such as the recent Snapchat hack reported by The Inquisitr, this new, invasive technology is even more reason to make your social media accounts private – and encourage your children to do the same.

[Image via Shutterstock]