facebook more secure

Facebook's new privacy guard and how to enable

To make women feel ‘safe’ while using its platform, Facebook has introduced two new features in India that give women more control over who can download and share their profile photos. Many Indian women are hesitant to upload photographs of themselves for their profiles because they worry that they will be misused. Facebook’s guard will ensure no Indian woman ever has to put a flower or a puppy as a profile picture.

What are the new features?

Facebook on Thursday announced that it was introducing new tools to give Indians more control over their profile pictures with the following features:

The first feature is a photo guard that users can trigger. It will keep others from being able to download, share, or send the photo in a Facebook message. The latest version of the Facebook app on Android devices will also prohibit users from taking a screenshot of a guarded photo. Profile pictures with the added security will be displayed with a blue border and shield, which Facebook calls "a visual cue so people understand you would like your picture to be protected."

The second feature is a design overlay that users can put on their profile pictures. There are several different pattern options that Facebook says mimic "traditional art designs from around India." In case users suspect that their profile pictures marked with a design are being misused, they can report it to Facebook, and the design may be removed.

Both tools will be promoted in Indian users' news feeds. Their gradual rollout started Wednesday; they will be available throughout India by today.

Why was this needed to put in place?

Facebook has found that many women in the country, for various compelling reasons, are hesitant to use a real photo of themselves as their profile photo. In India, safety is a concern for women offline and those concerns are very much mimicked online.

The problem is that women's profile photos are often downloaded by another user who then posts the photo as their own profile photo or adds it to their timeline. The reasons for why people do this are god knows what. But this definitely invades the privacy of a person.

Challenges for Facebook

People often impersonate others to form a fake identity and misuse it.  Profile pictures are public by default for all Facebook users, meaning that they are the most vulnerable to being reused without permission — often on other sites, at which point it becomes very difficult to take them down.

Facebook is not the only social media network to face this issue, and impersonations violate many networks' terms of service. But others have not taken technical steps to prevent it. 

In India, the shock of finding one's face attributed to another person's account or a fake version has prevented many users — particularly women — from uploading profile pictures that include their image at all. 

This guard doesn't relieve all concerns. It is unable to, for example, prevent someone from taking a photo of a profile picture using another phone or camera or computer. To deter those actions, Facebook is also releasing unique design overlays for profile photos. Users can choose from six different designs, each of which was inspired by traditional Indian textiles and art, to place on top of their profile photo as a sort of screen.

How to enable the privacy guard?

As soon as you log in to your account, you will see a notification on the top of your News Feed asking to secure your profile picture.

Once you accept it, a message box will pop up, saying, “The Profile Picture Guard will help keep your current photo more secure on Facebook in three ways.”

Other people will no longer be able to download, share or send your profile picture in a message on Facebook.

People you are not friends with on Facebook won’t be able to tag anyone, including themselves, in your profile picture.

Also, the blue border and shield around profile picture signals that other people should respect your profile picture and is a visual cue of protection deterring misuse.

Press ‘Next’ and adjust or change your profile picture. Save it and your photo is protected.

You can always turn Profile Picture Guard off by clicking on your profile picture and then reverting the setting.

This article was updated on July 27, 2017