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In my scientific research group, my professor tries to create a very social atmosphere between each of our members. For example, the group goes on a yearly retreat or meets up in order to watch big "events" such as an important sports game together.

I'm rather new to this group, and all of this is absolutely okay with me – I really do appreciate this familiarity; but I've also noticed that my group is active on quite some social networking site (such as Facebook or Google+) which I'm not particularly fond of.

On these sites, photos of our group are published every now and then, and as our next group retreat is coming up, I'm afraid that this might form the perfect setting for a group photo renewal.

Is there any professional way to address the issue that I do not want to be part of any photo that is released on Facebook and whatnot without either looking like a "tin foil hat wearer" or dissociating myself from my group?

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    What's your professional reason for not wanting such pictures to be shown? There is an argument for the group possibly wanting exposure as an argument for posting such photos. – JB King Jul 29 '14 at 6:36
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    @Chiru, if the management of the lab view the photos as something good to publicly publish, what is your argument that it is unprofessional other than your opinion? To my mind that is the question as I can easily see reasons for publicizing the photos to spread awareness of the lab and the activities the lab could be known for having which is similar to my initial comment on a professional reason for posting the photos in the first place. While you may disagree personally, what professional reason could you give the company for why this is a bad idea for them to do this? – JB King Jul 29 '14 at 7:43
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    @Chiru - That would be the tag, then. Those companies can't identify and profile you based upon the photo alone. They're not that sophisticated. Yet. So why not request that your employer refrain from tagging you in any photos that it posts? – aroth Jul 29 '14 at 10:29
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    As Scientific Research is by it nature collaborative why do you want not to be associated with your research group? – Pepone Jul 29 '14 at 17:08
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    "I don't want any web giant to even know where I work" <-- Would you then object to your name being listed on the research group's website as a group member? – PurpleVermont Jul 29 '14 at 18:31
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One option is to simply say matter-of-factly that you don't like to have your picture taken, and that should be the end of it. And when the photographer says "cheese". you give your best cheesy smile - standing next to the photographer and looking at the group, of course. If they see that you are being friendly and helpful, they most likely give you the slack about you not wanting your picture taken.

Just do yourself a favor and don't launch your explanation as to why you don't want your picture taken - I find it off-putting and I may not be the only one to find it off-putting, so you're better off giving no explanation and just reiterating with a cheerful smile that you don't want your picture taken. If someone contends that it's not as if they've not seen your picture on Facebook, say with a smile that the context was different and that you have the right to look inconsistent and it's your privilege to be inconsistent :)

Not wanting to have your picture taken is a trivial matter. Just don't escalate it into something bigger by giving a serious reason to a trivial matter.

As an aside, I am a relatively short guy. I have taken group pictures where I arranged to stand behind a taller guy, spreading each of my hands behind his head to make it look like he grew himself a pair of giant, flapping ears - To date, I have lived a charmed life and nobody has strung me up over this :)

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Depending on where you are located, you can, by law, deny any picture that includes you be kept away or taken down from the net. Exception is images that are pure crowd (think football stadium) where you happen to be visible + some others, but generally public crowd scenarios.

Now, pointing at the law will likely make you look like a "tinfoil hat" person, and at the same time dent your group relationship. A simple way is to decline from being part of the picture, but offer yourself to be the one taking the picture. You can further add that they can add your name to the people present at the event (a name is quite meaningless without a face in therms of photos).

I see your reasoning, not wishing to have your information spread across the galaxy, but I can assure you, if you are already not using sites like facebook and google+, or any other site where you "need" to add personal information, it's highly unlikely that your information will even be usable for any big company. A simple name connected to a job without any details beyond that, is useless, it tells nothing about who and\or what you are.

Companies are usually more interested in your information for add revenue anyway. If they have no idea about your interests, location nor personal detail, you are useless to them. So if no such information is out there, you should be quite safe.

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Let's look at this from two angles. One is the more fun, for me anyway, angle of "so you don't want to be tracked on the internet..." the other is the more useful, for you, angle of "no pictures on the internet".

Starting with the more useful angle. Unless you are a tinfoil hat wearing weirdo (which, hey, no offense if you are. Everyone is about something) then make a joke of it. How can you tell if you are a tinfoil wearing hat weird about this? If you can't shutup about it. I don't mean that in a mean way, I mean that if you can't graciously say "Nah, I'm not comfortable being in a picture" without also saying something like "THAT'S HOW THEY TRACK YOU!". Taking you at your word that you are not a tinfoil hat wearing weirdo - make a joke of it, be lighthearted about it, be willing to admit that this is socially unusual, in short 'be chill'.

What does 'being chill' look like? When someone bustles up and tries to set up the group photo gently decline. Say something like, "I know it's weird but I don't like being in photos. I'd rather sit this one out. I can take the photo if that would help!" Or make a joke of it, "Don't you know.... photos steal you ~soul~(spooky fingers here helps). Hand over the camera and I can steal your.. I mean take the picture."

For a variety of reasons I don't like having my own picture taken but, sometimes there's no getting out of it. I was involved in a fairly big research project(9+ universities across the US in a competition type environment). Team photos were required from the top down and if your name appeared on any research related to this or you were involved on the day of... your photo was getting taken and posted. Not just to Facebook but to newspapers and similarly. Additionally we were all told to give an interview for some sound bytes, again required from the top down, and, wouldn't you know it, I (the person who hates having her photo taken) was used on a fairly well known news site. The point I'm making here is that there may come a time when you have to decide if this is the hill you want (your career) to die on. If you / your lab makes some famous, world changing discovery are you going to be 'that guy' who refuses to get a photo taken? As unfair as it may be being difficult about something like that can harm your career and you should be aware of it.

To help with that awareness let's get to the fun(for me) angle. So you don't want to be tracked by companies? Your bank(s) are tracking your spending. If you shop at any major chain stores - those companies track your spending not only through your banking information but also through your loyalty card. Your TV and Internet habits are certainly monitored through your ISP and they use this to make choices about advertising and pricing. If you have student loans... good golly does Sally Mae and company sell your deets. A little more personally - Do you use Chrome? Gmail? Google Search? Does your school provide email services through Google? Do you have any of these synced to your phone or other devices? If so, Google has your life tracked. Other browsers aren't much better (though they tend not to have the handy hooks into your email) but any emails that aren't on a server you own or, typically, on a private(non-corporate email server) are being datamined and tracked in at least an abstract sense.

As a hobby of mine I like to see what kind of data I can get from public sources. I can get a lot of information just from your stackexchange profile. Searching your username I can find activity that matches both the time line and subject matter you have posted here which, with a little more work can get me an email address...

My point isn't to be all scary and creepy. Though, on reflection that is pretty creepy, my point is to talk, as one data scientist to another the desire to not be a 'datapoint' for companies is a valid one but it involves much, much more than not being on facebook. If being a datapoint is a concern for you you will run into problems in a research environment. If you publish or assist in publishing your name will be attached to the papers and it will be available in crawlable places. If you become a professor your name will be on your university's website along with a bio. When you enter the work force your name will probably be accessible in some way or form through your company's web presence especially if you are in a research/bleeding edge development or leadership role.

The decision to avoid having information on the internet is a valid, personal decision. The practicality and implementation of that decision takes a lot of reflection and work. This goes beyond 'I don't want photos on Facebook' but I would suggest that you schedule a time with someone in your field and/or your labs PI and talk to them about what that could mean for your career and how best to handle it.

  • Wow, I really enjoyed reading what you have to say. :) Thanks so much for your input! Well, I don't want to let you down, but Chiru is my StackExchange name only, I'm running an own personal e-mail server, I use neither Chrome nor social networks, I write mails to GMail accounts only from disposable email addresses, I… Great goodness, wait. Maybe… I really am a tin foil hat wearing weirdo…? – Chiru Jul 29 '14 at 19:30
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To be honest this isn't as big a deal as it used to be...

Prior to the revelations of just how much is tracked by Google, Facebook, NSA, etc. people would have likely genuinely looked at you as either a tin-foiled hat wearing weirdo or some kind of religious nut job. (depending on the reason you provided)

With all the revelations though this sort of response is actually becoming pretty common. (not like a notable majority common, but common enough there tends to be at least one or two people like this in every large group)

My honest recommendation would just be honest and forth coming. When asked I would simply say you'd prefer not be in the picture. If they ask why you can honestly say you don't want your picture on facebook, etc. (most people will respect that stance even if they themselves don't agree with it)

Now you do have a group of people out there who are social network evangelists in how they behave. The people married to their phone tweeting every little trivial thing. If anyone gives you trouble it'll be these people. Just because your view is effectively the opposite of theirs.

I find humor the best tool for dealing with such people. Some take your disinterest in participating in their hobby almost offensive (which is frankly an unreasonable way for them to react, but that's just how some people are)

I personally lean towards playing into what you're worried they'll think about you. Make a comment like "THEY want you to take our picture, but I won't let THEM win" glancing back and forth with crazy eyes. (making sure it's WAY over the top) then offer to take the picture, or just following up with "in all seriousness I really don't like putting my pictures online for the world to see" If they keep pushing at this point they aren't going to be convinced just tell them "sorry, but no" and leave it at that.

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