Monday, October 4, 2010

facebooks new photo sharing fails Photo Metadata testing

I heard on CNET's "Buzz out Loud" Podcast last week that Facebook had updated their photo sharing to accommodate "High Resolution" images.

You can now upload images up to 2048 pixels on the long dimension. Note that I said "upload" -- not view. Your facebook friends (or other viewers if the album is made public) can download these larger sized images, but the online viewing is limited to a version that has been resized to a maximum of 720 pixels wide. I had hoped that this integration of Divvyshot's technology might mean that facebook would finally stop their "stripping" of embedded photo metadata, but that apparently is something that facebook users will still have to lobby for if they expect to see a change.

I've made a facebook album page available for public viewing using the CV Social Media Testbed image, which was fully loaded with embedded metadata. The actual image (now sans metadata thanks to facebook) can be viewed at this link.

As noted in the latest report on the "Survey regarding the Preservation of Photo Metadata by Social Media Websites" no metadata from the image is exposed on the facebook site. While there is an option on your facebook page to "Tag This Photo" the system does not pick up any of the embedded metadata tags such as those in the keyword field, like both flickr and Picasa Web Albums can do.

In addition, while the images that can be viewed online are now up to 720 pixels on the long dimension, they are still being "stripped" of all IPTC, XMP, and Exif metadata (ICC profile information is retained). The option for others to download a 'high resolution" version, only prompts a download (you can not view the image online). I downloaded this larger version and tested as well. The only difference between the "high resolution" version and the online 720 pixel wide version, was the resolution -- both are stripped of any information beyond the pixels and the ICC profile. Since all descriptive photo metadata is missing, this would mean that even the "original" is being modified before it is stored on their system -- and potential orphan works are being created, each time you upload an image to facebook.

For those that are concerned about retaining their intellectual properly, facebook receives a failing grade in our book. For now, our recommendation is to stick with Flickr or Picasa Web Gallery.


Rod MacPherson said...

Unfortunately, it seems that in an overly aggressive attempt to comply with the users' wishes for better privacy facebook has gone a little too far with the meta-data stripping.

I can understand that they want to strip metadata like GPS co-ordinates and camera model for purposes of protecting privacy, but if the owner specifically added it, as in IPTC metadata, then there is no reason to strip the metadata from the "original".
Stripping it from the websized versions for the sake of reducing storage space makes some sense, you don't want a 3kB file with 4kB of metadata attached to it, but when the photo is 2MB what difference does that make?

Albatross said...

Just curious: if Facebook preserved and transmitted EXIF metadata, might it not likewise suffer accusations that it was 'exposing hidden private information' to the world?

Jenelys said...

Looking at this issue from a library science perspective raises some big concerns. The idea of modifying original works is a huge taboo in our field, which emphasizes preservation and intellectual property rights. The stripping of ownership metadata can create many legal ramifications for libraries, such as an inability to accept images into an institutional collection, inability to determine copyright holders, or a violation of use agreements by posting an image to a site without intact ownership information.
As Rod said, Facebook itself is very concerned with privacy issues and this may be a big reason for them to strip metadata. But to do this without the explicit permission of the user whose photo is being uploaded violates that user’s intellectual property rights. There are also some privacy assumptions built into a social media site that should be considered.
If a user on Facebook enters information about their location, work, home, school, or so on, it is assumed that the information is available for display to others on the site, whether a select group or the entire user community. The user entering the information is responsible for how much they divulge and the viewing permissions granted to different groups of users.
The same logic could apply to images uploaded by a user. There is an assumption that the images are meant to be viewed by other users. Stripping metadata does not become equivocal to privacy in this case, because the user has already made the decision to divulge that image. There would be some differences if the user had an option to keep or strip certain metadata from an uploaded image, but this choice is currently being made by Facebook with no input from the user. Thus, the user cannot make their own judgment as to the value of intellectual property versus privacy or which rights they may wish to retain for the image.