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Spotlight on: Using Your Real Photo for Your Profile Picture - the Pros and Cons

I enjoy writing about many different subjects. Famous people fascinate me and I enjoy bringing their stories to my readers.

Your Profile Picture

My Idea Of The Perfect Profile Picture

No, this is not my dog.

No, this is not my dog.

I Really Thought It Would Be Okay ...

About four years ago, I was digging in a box of old photo albums looking for a generic photo I could use as a profile picture on Google. I came across an old photo of myself that my husband had snapped while we were on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida over twenty years before. It was a picture of me in a bathing suit at about age 38, sitting on a beach chair, with a floppy hat on and big round pink sunglasses.

My face was not hidden by the hat, but you couldn't see my eyes because of the sunglasses. Since it was not a very identifying picture, I thought it was good enough to use as my profile picture on Google. I figured it beat using a picture of the family dog or cat that everyone else seemed to be using.

So, secure in the knowledge that no one would recognize me on the street from this beach picture, I scanned it into my computer and cropped it to fit into Google's profile slot. Because Google owns Blogger, as expected, it immediately went to my blogs on Blogger.

Then I put it on my Facebook account.

Little did I know that within 30 minutes, it would be stolen (copied) and put on someone else's Facebook page with their name on it. (A friend alerted me that a woman in her gaming group had a profile picture that could have been my twin. Well, I knew that wasn't possible, so I went to her wall to have a look. I can still remember the woman's name!)

Now believe me when I tell you that this photo was just obscure enough that it could have been "anybody", and really - anybody could have gotten away with saying that it was their photo. But I knew it was mine.


Because after I scanned it into my computer, I used Picasa (a photo editing program) and typed my name on the photo (sometimes called a poor man's watermark). I placed the text along the straight edge of my leg toward the center of the picture, using very faded text. You would really have to look for my name to be able to see it. But I knew where to look and of course, it was there.

I always watermark all my photos the same way, whether they are photos of me, family, our pets, or pictures I make using photo editing programs like Pizap. Somewhere in the photo, the discerning eye will find my "© Rachael O'Halloran" usually along the hairline, the pant leg or an arm sleeve, but never on the outer edge of a photograph.


Placing your text on the outer edge of any photograph might be comforting to you so that you and everyone else knows the photo is yours, but you have just made it so much easier for "an unscrupulous someone" to crop your name off and use your photo as their own.

Maybe they don't have a picture they are willing to share, or maybe they are on the FBI Most Wanted List. Who cares why they take other people's photos? They just do, and you'll need to protect yourself and your photos, if you care about them.

By burying the text somewhere in the photo with very light colored text, YOU know it is there, but they don't.

Once you have had your photos stolen, or experience looking at a stranger's name on your face, you'll get real smart real quick.

So, instead of confronting this Facebook thief, I saw that her friends were tagging themselves in all her photos which meant that she had her settings set to allow tagging.

So I tagged my name on my own photo on her Facebook wall.

  • Tagging is when you go to someone's photo, click an area and then type your name on the photo, save and your name disappears from view. Then, when someone holds their mouse over the picture, all those who tagged themselves light up on the screen. Their name also appears on a list of names either to the side or under the picture and in any searches done using their name.

It took her over four hours to figure out that the Rachael O'Halloran who tagged her photo was the same person she had stolen it from. When I asked her to remove it, she refused, saying the photo was hers.

Scroll to Continue

So I reported her to Facebook. A fat lot of good that did.

Rachael O'Halloran's Cat, Laying Next To His Daddy's Extremely Beat Up Recliner!

You can bet on it ... someone will steal my cat within 24 hours!

You can bet on it ... someone will steal my cat within 24 hours!

I hope they steal this cat instead.


Facebook Has A Presumption of Guilt - Not Innocence

I guess if the picture had been clearer, Facebook would have believed me when I said this woman stole my profile picture.

But they didn't believe me. They believed her.

They wanted me to prove who I was. Huh? My driver's license is my typical show of proof, but even that would be no good in proving this 20 year old photo was mine.

Trust me, I don't look like that anymore. My Irish black hair has been replaced by salt and pepper colors and my once perfect size 2 is now a size 8. That bathing beauty in the picture might as well be a stranger.

So I told them where to look for my name which was watermarked on the photo and that's how I got my photograph back.

Well ... I didn't get it back exactly. Facebook made her take it down, but she got to keep her Facebook account. She probably still retained a copy of the photo on her computer and she could still be using it today, for all I know. I quit Facebook shortly after and I haven't had a Facebook account in over two years.

Our Dogs

This 20 year old photo is of our rescue matriarch welcoming our newest rescue addition.

This 20 year old photo is of our rescue matriarch welcoming our newest rescue addition.

Your Privacy Rights

Your Rights On The Internet - Do you have a right to privacy?

Why You Should Care About (and Defend) Your Privacy

Free Resources (Examples below)

Avatar Maker - make an avatar to use as your profile picture

Avachara Portrait - Cartoon yourself

Build Your Wild Self - Wild and Crazy Stuff - Have fun!

Example of Avatar Maker

Put in a keyword and get suggestions.  This is wha came up for BUSY MOM.

Put in a keyword and get suggestions. This is wha came up for BUSY MOM.

Example of Cartoon Maker

Very cool -- you can select clothes, face, hair, background wallpaper.  Try this out

Very cool -- you can select clothes, face, hair, background wallpaper. Try this out

BuiLD YouR WiLd SeLF


Your Own Photo Makes You Look Friendly

Many people use their own photo on the internet. They want their online friends to know what they look like and to be able to put a face with their name. They might also want everyone to know they have the right Jane Smith when they see their photo next to their name.

They don't give a second thought that someone might steal the picture, or photo-shop the likeness into another picture or maybe even put it into a "suggestive" background.

All websites will tell you that you own your content, that it is your "intellectual property" and that you can control how it is shared by using your privacy settings, especially on Facebook.

It is up to you to safeguard your content with these settings. But how many people on Facebook have their settings set to PUBLIC, not FRIENDS?

Many. Even me. That's how that girl was able to get my photograph.

What most websites don't tell you is what to do when someone takes your photo as their own.

Oh, some do have some kind of a remedy in place and other sites may tell you to duke it out with the copyright infringer.

Yes, copyright infringer. Because that is what they are. You own the photo of your likeness and they stole it, so that makes them a copyright infringer.

So if you haven't guessed what I'm about to tell you, here is the remedy.

Facebook has their own guidelines in place, as lame as they are, so this won't apply to them. If any webmaster doesn't give you satisfaction, you will have to file a DMCA form with Google (and other search engines) to have their site removed from searches, then contact their hosting site to have the site taken down. When it is taken down, so should your photo.

But it will always be in the internet's cache, like a ghost.

So, what do you do about all the other sites where they are still using YOUR photo as their avatar?

  • like when they won 39th place at Zynga poker and their name and your face is in the top 100 slots?
  • or when it's on a blog that is not hosted by Google?
  • or when it's on Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr?
  • or if they are using your photo to advertise their services on Fiverr, Freelance or other business sites?

It is a lot of legwork, and in the extreme case, you might be looking at filing an actual lawsuit. Unless ....

  • You just don't use your own photo as your profile picture, OR
  • You don't care if someone takes your photo in the first place.

(On Left) My Avatar was adapted from Emile Vernon (1872-1919) artwork The Flower Girl

I muted the vibrant colors and brightened up her face to make it clearer.

I muted the vibrant colors and brightened up her face to make it clearer.

The Artist Emile Vernon (1872-1919)

Emile Vernon was born in Blois, France in 1872 and studied painting under the French genre artist Auguste Joseph Trupheme (1836-1898). He exhibited one painting at the Paris Salon of 1898. By 1904 Emile Vernon exhibited his first flower painting at the Royal Academy. He is best remembered for his scenes of pretty young girls with flowers. He died at age 47.


Free Advice

1. Once a week, Google your name - both your screen name and your profile name

  • Anything that your name has been associated with will be in the results. If someone copied your articles on this site, you might learn of it this way. I did.
  • After you look at the list of results, click IMAGES. Any image that is even remotely associated with your name - uploaded to HubPages articles, profile pictures past and present, family pix, etc. - will be in the IMAGE results.

2. Once a week, right click ANY of your personal photographs and select SEARCH GOOGLE FOR THIS IMAGE.

  • This will show you if anyone is using your photographs for personal use, on blogs, or sites like HubPages.

3. Once a week, with an EMPTY cache (clear browsing data), select at least three keywords that are the topics of your hubs and enter them one at a time into any search engine. See what everyone else is writing about on your topics.

4. Set up Google Alerts for your name and the names of your kids and spouse to check for identity theft. The choices are "as it happens" or "daily." I usually set it up "as it happens" for the first week or so, then go to daily. It takes Google at least 24 hours to start notifying you.

5. If you must share stuff with your real life friends and family members, don't do it online. Have them over to dinner (if you are so inclined) or send them a Christmas update.


As you can see by my avatar, I do not use my own photo on the internet.

"The Flower Girl" is by French painter, Emile Vernon (1872-1919). The photo on the left is my very slight manipulation of Emile Vernon's print which I presently use as my profile picture.

The photo on the right is a copy of Emile Vernon's original print with its vibrant colors, hazy backgrounds and shadows on her face as cast by her hat. I know it is the proper way to paint someone in the garden, whose face is shielded by a hat, but I wanted a clearer picture of her face, so I played with the colors and lighting.

Because Emile Vernon's works are in the public domain (pre-1923), I can adapt or manipulate his print any way I choose, without securing permission or paying a licensing fee.

If you are not going to use your own likeness,

Please make sure for whatever photo you do use:

  • 1) that you own it
  • 2) that you didn't steal it from someone
  • 3) that have permission to use it, in writing when possible, or
  • 4) that it is in the public domain.


I was going to stop here and move on to discussing some cool programs to make profile pictures, but something funny happened on the way to the next text capsule.

Originally I wrote the following sentence in this space: "Please see the gallery I posted at the end of this article to enjoy more of this fine artist's work. Perhaps you might find one to your liking to use as your avatar."

However, I received an "alert" message at the top right of this article that some of my photos were pixelated and/or low resolution. So I started removing them one by one, to figure out which one was the culprit.

By the time I removed all 16 thumbnail photos, only then did the message go away, which means either I finally found THE ONE, or ... that all of them were unacceptable. lol

Since Emile Vernon actually painted them that way, and almost all Impressionist paintings are faded, blurry or somewhat muted, there was nothing I could do about the low resolution.

But I was mad now because I wanted you to be able to see some of the other beautiful works of art he painted and I didn't want to link to someone who would probably take down their article at some point in the future and then I'd end up with a broken link notification.

So ...... desperate times call for desperate measures.

I had joined YouTube back in March 2014 but never made a video because I honestly didn't want to take the time to learn how to do it. It wasn't at the top of my list of pressing matters.

So today, I decided it was "do or die" day. Because I wanted to show you these paintings and I wasn't about to give up on finding a way to do it, I spent the better part of yesterday downloading and trying to learn numerous "absolutely FREE" video-making software that promised they were "easy to use" - and did I mention Free? - except almost all of them were 30 day trial uses. After that, you had to become a paying customer. I also tried Vimeo, Go-animate, Microsoft Movie Maker, and about four others.

Needless to say, I felt hopeless. I wanted to do this myself, without asking a family member for help. But I'm not hearing enabled, and I couldn't get the hang of any of them. Half of the videos didn't have closed-captioning or transcripts. Watching wasn't enough; I needed the transcripts to read what I missing in the audio portion. Then after making the video, you had to convert it to another type of file to be able to upload it to YouTube - it was just too much for me to comprehend and a whole boatload of frustration for me.


What face do you want the internet world to see?

It could be:

  1. your dog
  2. your cat
  3. your newborn baby
  4. your house
  5. your car
  6. your favorite splashes of color
  7. choices from my sidebar suggestions (Cartoon or Avatar Generator)

Whatever you choose, it has to be

  1. yours, (as in - it was gifted to you or you personally snapped it) or
  2. free to use, (as in free of copyrights) or
  3. public domain (see charts)
  4. used with permission - get it in writing because people forget or renege on their word

The good news about profile pictures is that you are not stuck with the same one forever and ever. You can change it daily, and on some sites, even hourly.

The bad news is once you use a photo as a profile picture, a cache copy is in the search engines and at some point it will show up in a search as associated with you and/or your name.

Video Editor

Then I saw that YouTube has a free Video Editor Creator and I had a V-8 moment. I had seen it before and promised myself I'd look into it but you know how it is, things get put in your "to do" pile and promptly get forgotten.

In less than two hours, I had a slide presentation made and uploaded, approved by their Quality Control and was able to insert it into this article to show you Emile Vernon's beautiful paintings!

So instead of low resolution pictures, my very first YouTube presentation is what appears at the end of this article!

I hope y'all appreciate the trouble we go to for our readers! lol (joke)

My only regret yesterday was wasting time on useless garbage programs that have now downloaded their cookies and Adware on my laptop. They will be biting the dust as soon as I hit the PUBLISH button on this article.

Anyway. Your avatar is important because it defines you and identifies you, just like your screen name does, whether it is your own name or your "made up" name.

Decide what face you want to show to the internet because even if you take it down, the internet has a long memory.

My First YouTube Effort

Public Domain

I'm proud to say that not only are the photos public domain (Thank you to Emile Vernon and to France, his country of origin!), but I used public domain music to play in the background.

So turn it up!

It is called "Waltz of the Flowers" (by Tchaikovsky) and I thought it was very fitting since this painter loved flowers and gardens.

If you have a YouTube account, and if you would like to try it out, here is the link to YouTube's Video Editor. If I can do it, you can do it. It was so easy.

Shameless plug: If you would like to "subscribe" to my Channel, here is the link:

Rachael O'Halloran On YouTube

Thank you

© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran


Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on February 01, 2015:

Hi Peg, It truly is amazing the lengths people go to in stealing something as innocuous as a photo and, to me, even more amazing that people don't protect what is theirs.

LOL @ shaming the guy into taking down the photo. I'm glad you found this article helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 01, 2015:

Very important warnings and advice on protecting our photos online. I still can't believe that person took your Facebook photo to use for their own. Someone once used a photo of my hubby's race car and claimed it was his new hot rod. Some of our friends went on the site and shamed him into removing it telling him they were friends of the real owner. People can really astound us.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 31, 2014:

peachpurple, For watermarking your photo, a simple text of your name put in an obscure spot on the photo will suffice. Use Picasa, follow their directions for putting text on your pictures, then use fade button to lighten your name so it is no so obvious and you will be fine. Picasa is part of the Google family and you can get it here:

Thanks for reading.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 31, 2014:

Yes, i like to use my own photos but don't know how to put watermark my nsme

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on December 22, 2014:

I've had the same problem Rachael. Most people don't show any interest, or they believe the negative publicity they read -- about it being an MLM scheme. I don't bother these people. I just leave them alone and never mention it again.

On the other hand, sometimes people ask me what "What are you up to today" or some query similar to that. That's when I mention "I'm working on Tsu" and that sparks interest. "What's Tsu?" they ask. That opens the door and allows me to lead into a full explanation. I got a few people signing up that way.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 21, 2014:

Glenn Stok, thank you. My two invites declined and I've since ask three others who have also declined.

I think Tsu has to get more footing and recognition so people see it for the valuable site it is. Whenever Facebook is mentioned in the same sentence, people tend to either run the other way or embrace it. So far, my invites have run the other way! lol

I tried to implore that it's not really like FB which has games and groups, etc. and that Tsu is more networking oriented. But I think I have to get more exposure to the nuts and bolts of Tsu before I can keep extolling its virtues. All in good time. :)

Thanks again.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on December 21, 2014:

Rachael, Oh yes indeed. I think I already thanked you but that must have been in another hub. Not only did you sign up through me and are my child, but you did an excellent job at setting up your profile and getting started with your first few posts. Not many people have gotten started on such a strong footing.

You sure have a knack for educating yourself with the wherewithal of new platforms. Once those two invites sign up that you mentioned, you'll have two children yourself. Then watch how your network grows. That's one of the fun parts.

Thanks for the kind words about learning from me. But I have news for you, I have learned a lot from you - such as from this hub on pros and cons of using real photos. You are a wealth of information yourself.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 20, 2014:

Glenn Stok,

Thank you for your compliments. I'm in learning stages on so many technological things and I find it funny at my age to be such a novice with internet tools like YouTube. I joined Tsu yesterday under your link so let me know if I show up on your list so I know I did it right. I watched no less than 10 YouTube videos to see what others had to say about Tsu and how to make the best of the site. Then, I extended 2 invitations to HP friends I know can benefit from Tsu so we'll see how that goes. You are a wealth of information and I know I can learn from you too. Thank you for encouragement.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on December 20, 2014:

After leaving my prior comment I just went back to watch your first YouTube video. I have to say you did a marvelous job with the presentation as well as the selection of the background music. I love how youtube offers the ability to select public domain music that can be used. I know, because I've created a couple of videos myself, also with the slideshow feature. You found a really cool feature that can be used to enhance hubs and you use it well.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on December 20, 2014:

You covered all the important issues here Rachael. Everything you offered here is extremely useful information. I especially like your sidebar with advice. You have given me a number of things I know I need to pay more attention to, as everyone should.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 19, 2014:


I'm glad you found this interesting. Thanks for reading, voting and commenting.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on December 19, 2014:

Thank you for your advice and information. I had no idea. Voted up.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 19, 2014:

RTalloni - I'm glad you stopped by. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 19, 2014:

heidithorne, imprint your name on any photo of yourself for safeguard. Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy Holidays to you and yours as well.

RTalloni on December 19, 2014:

This is entertainingly informative. Thanks for sharing what you've learned through experience and research.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on December 19, 2014:

Great discussion of the pros and cons. Glad you emphasized that the person has to own the photo of themselves. So many use professional wedding pics. Big no-no!

Because I'm a public speaker, I've got to use my photo... and a current one. Who would hire a speaker sight unseen? So I have to just roll with the fact that my pic is all over the Internet. Oh well...

Voted up, useful, interesting and sharing! Happy Holidays!

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on December 19, 2014:

Mary615, Thank you for the follow :) I'm glad you found some useful info in this article. It is so important to be aware of the crazies out there who steal not only our articles but also our photos. Imprinting your name on them is the best way to safeguard ownership. And modestly I thank you for your compliment on the video. :)

Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 19, 2014:

I certainly learned a lot by reading this Hub! As you can see, I use my own photo. I really should have a better one done if I continue to use my own! This one is pretty old!

You did a fantastic job with the video; I have not been brave enough to even try to make onel

Voted this UP, and shared.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on September 23, 2014:


I went so far as to post pictures of my 2 dogs (who are now in doggie heaven) and my cat, who lives the life of Riley. I don't publish names of pets and the little I've shared about my family life is vague at best. I value privacy and I hope I've driven that issue home to my readers that they need to value it too.

If they must use their photo for something (LinkedIn, Professional profiles), mark it with text the way I wrote in the above. In any other arena, put up a picture of the dog, the cat, a rainbow, a mountain, a quote...anything but themselves.

You are smart to warn your kids and to keep on top of it. I just joined Twitter a couple of weeks ago for the same reason and my tweets are only about hubs - so far. lol

It will only take one political issue to tick me off so that I start power-tweeting, but of course, I'm hoping I can control my fingers from typing and just get it out of my system to whomever is in my immediate home space. lol

Thanks for voting and reading. Keep up the great vigilance with your family's sharing online.

breakfastpop on September 23, 2014:

I never use my ow photo on the internet and I warn my kids not to even think about posting pictures of the family. I wouldn't even be on Twitter of it weren't for my Hub. There is way too much information out there and there are way too many whackos! The combination is very dangerous. Voted up and useful!

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on September 21, 2014:


Words to live by, for sure.

Sometimes with text, the fingers are faster than the brain, we hit SEND/ENTER and stuff just goes out over the airwaves quickly, rarely able to re-call them back.

But with the profile pictures and personal information, we have time to choose what photos we want to use to identify ourselves with, the pictures we want to post online of families, and the information we want to put on profile bio, etc - if everyone would take a few minutes to think about the possible ramifications down the line (their image could be stolen, their personal circumstances could change, revealing their face/location can make them targets of identity theft etc.), they could be making more informed decisions.

I hope readers take this seriously. It is important, no more than ever in our society.

Thanks for reading and voting. :)

Victor W. Kwok from Hawaii on September 21, 2014:

We should always think before we post something on the internet. They can define to others the kind of people we are. Thumbs up to a great hub, Rachael!

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on September 20, 2014:


Thank you and @ video, thank you again. I hope yours has real live moving people. I'm afraid slideshow status is about the best I can do for now. I have to learn more about how the process works. I'm not sure how the post-ers are getting away with copying each other's footage and incorporating it into a new video, but until I learn how to not infringe on copyrights, I'll be sitting out moving pictures. Gosh I sound like something out of the 1920s. lol

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2014:

This is a very useful hub, Rachel. Thanks for all the tips and for sharing your knowledge and experience. Congratulations on your first YouTube video - it's lovely. I have a YouTube account that contains no videos. It's time for me to follow your example and create one!

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on September 20, 2014:


Like I said, it was a crappy picture with poor visibility. It could have been anyone. Who knows why people do the stuff they do!

@Video, thank you. For now, I have figured out how to do slideshows. So, expect to see a ton of them until I get the hang of making a real video.

With real people.

Moving around. Not stationery, like in a slideshow. lol

I guess I won't be a real YouTube-r until I figure that out.

Thanks for reading, praise, and commenting.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 20, 2014:

That woman was a strange bird. And her so-called friends, you would imagine that they would know it wasn't her. Your first YouTube video is beautiful, both the music and images.

Rachael O'Halloran (author) from United States on September 20, 2014:

#Jackie Lynnley

The little bit of watermark I have on my photos is barely noticeable.

What HP is talking about is grossly watermarked images like the way SHUTTERSTOCK and other photo sites mark their images (which is removed when you actually pay to use the photo).

My watermark is on the copy that is sca