Already a Bloomberg.com user?
Sign in with the same account.
Posting photos of last night's indiscretions on the Internet always carries risk. Sure, you can upload pictures to a password-protected album, or a social network that lets you share only with the folks you trust.
But compromising photos have a way of getting out. Now the leaking just got easier. A new free Web site called YoBusted prominently features photos of people in various stages of undress, in the midst of revelry, or in other potentially embarrassing situations. The snapshots are not necessarily posted by the subject, either; YoBusted encourages users to send in photos of other people with the invitation: "Anonymously upload hilarious photos and videos of people you know." If a subject who isn't a member wants a photo removed, YoBusted requires that the person become a "trial" member for $19.99 for a month or a "premium" member for $49.99 a year.
On one level, YoBusted is only the latest reminder of the lack of privacy in the age of digital cameras, the Web, and social media that make it easy for compromising photos to make their way around the world in seconds. At the same time, YoBusted's methods have raised eyebrows among legal experts, and a prominent social-networking site alleges YoBusted is misusing its content.
At least four users of Facebook say photos were taken from their Facebook profile pages and posted to YoBusted without their permission. After being alerted to those allegations against YoBusted by BusinessWeek.com, Facebook responded that posting photos from user profile pages without the photo owner's permission violates its terms of service. Facebook also alleged that YoBusted is unlawfully demanding payment for the removal of photos. Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook, says the company has alerted the FBI to YoBusted's alleged conduct. An FBI spokesman didn't confirm that Facebook had contacted the bureau.
A YoBusted spokesperson said in an e-mail that the site lets members "remove any photographs that they are uncomfortable with." The person, who did not identify himself or herself, added that "members are free to upload pictures which they feel pictorially describe their lifestyle and personality. We do not knowingly post any pictures that are subject to copyright and that are not in the public domain." According to the site, members can edit and monitor content that is tagged with their names, make comments on content, and upload as many as 100 pictures and five videos a week. They also can "earn referral commissions" of $10 or $20 when someone they tag becomes a member, if only to secure the removal of a photo.
YoBusted is operated by a company named Web3 Media Corporation, based in Panama. In the e-mailed statement, YoBusted said it was incorporated several years ago. YoBusted.com was registered as a domain in December 2007 by proxy.
Anyone hoping to bring legal action against YoBusted may need to demonstrate that its "business model is being driven by fear of exposure," says Laurence Pulgram, partner in the intellectual property and technology litigation group at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West. In that case, "there are real potential claims that could be made," Pulgram says. The bar is high for proving allegations of extortion, a criminal offense that's typically thought of as threatening to commit an injurious act to someone to get them to pay or give up some property. "Extortion means obtaining property of another with his consent by wrongful use of force or fear," Pulgram says. "And fear can mean to expose or impute disgrace. Is this site doing that? It may be."
YoBusted says it's justified in asking members to pay fees. "YoBusted offers prospective members a host of services that relate to their Web profile, and it is reasonable to expect them to pay a fee for such services," the company said in its e-mailed statement. "In most cases, people depicted on the site are proud of their joie de vivre and wouldn't think of having the content removed."
Vancouver resident Tracey Feenstra says she was shocked to find two photos on YoBusted that she had taken and uploaded to her Facebook profile almost two years ago. She also says she didn't give anyone else permission to post the photos to the site. "None of my friends have heard of YoBusted until now, nor would any of them upload those pictures on a site such as theirs," Feenstra says. She noted that she's inaccurately listed as the subject of the photos, which depict her friends simulating amorous behavior. "I do find it harmful to have those photos public, especially since I am falsely identified as being in the pictures," Feenstra says. YoBusted declined to comment specifically on Feenstra, citing its intent to protect user anonymity; her photos could no longer be found on the site after inquiries from BusinessWeek.com.
According to YoBusted's terms of service, the person submitting the photo "warrants that he or she has the right to publish the photo and grants YoBusted the right to publish it for the stated purposes of the site," the company says in the e-mailed statement. The site also says it will take down photos without requiring a person to become a member in certain circumstances, "at our discretion," such as to ensure server performance or the entertainment value of content. It might also take down photos in case of tagging errors or "if we believe material constitutes a copyright violation."
Facebook takes pains to let users protect the privacy of the photos they post to the site. It lets them keep photo albums private, or share photos with only specific people, groups of users, or only people they've accepted as "friends." But the posting of photos to YoBusted underscores the tenuous grasp on privacy afforded by social media. On Facebook, for instance, the default photo privacy setting lets any of the site's 140 million registered users see a person's pictures. "People are making assumptions that turn out not to be true about the privacy of the material they are submitting" to social networks, says David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Douglas MacMillan is a staff writer for BusinessWeek in New York.