Online photos and privacy

Last week-end, I walked in the city center and posted some photos of sceneries and people on Flickr. It was the first time I posted photos of people I really don’t know (I already posted photos with people from parties where attendees want to see them online).

I recently read some articles (1, 2, 3) and blog posts about privacy and a new service from Google: Street view. I was then wondering if they are rules or regulations regarding online privacy for non-publishers (for online media).

If you have the opportunity to post your own photo and you don’t want to be online, you may just not publish it. Here I’m talking about people whose picture is being taken in public places and published online without their explicit consent.

A recent post from Slashdot discusses an article on the privacy implications of online photo-tagging (pdf). The issue here is a bit different since they are mainly talking about photos tagged with names of people on the picture (I didn’t go that far). But a stakeholder posted excerpts of the EU Data Protection Directive (already adopted in the Belgian law). You can find the text and some explanations on the EC data protection website. Other explanations and a good summary of differences regarding privacy between Europe and USA is in the Wikipedia article. Since Flickr is a US website/company, it’s not a surprise there are no references to nor guidelines regarding privacy of people on the pictures. But if I strictly follow the Belgian law, I should perhaps remove those photos. A lot of my contacts on Flickr do not take/publish pictures of unknown people. Is it on purpose?

I didn’t decided yet what to do, where is the right equilibrium between privacy concerns, hobby and knowledge/information sharing. Any insight is welcome.