Is there some sort of resource that suggests students be asked to include an ID or token in their photos?

As iNat use by students ramps up here in the northern hemisphere, I’ve been noticing more and more observations with little items in them - toys, charms, lollipops, ID cards, etc., which I believe the students are asked to include in their photos to prove they’re not stolen.

Items that contain personal data (like names, ID cards, credit cards, passports, etc) should not be used for this, as it could be a security issue for the observer (I’ve had to delete photos of passports and ID cards that students included in their photos).

Also, there have been a few instances where students have stolen photos from the internet and photoshopped their item into the stolen photo, so that’s something to be aware of.

Is there some place where this suggested as best practices to teachers when using iNat?


I’m curious, are you asking because you wish to discourage the practice? Or are you merely wondering how everyone came up with the same idea?

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Should photos of student ID cards (school-issued, not government) be removed? I have seen many but I have never flagged them.


I definitely want to discourage the practice of using ID cards and the like, and I wanted to let teachers know it’s not a foolproof method. If that info can get to whatever resource or network is suggesting this method, that’d be great.

I’m personally not a fan of seeing extraneous items in an observation photo (aside from scale objects and the like) but objectively it’s probably fairly harmless. Unless this becomes very widespread it’s probably not going to affect computer vision training. I’m also just bummed that these kinds of measures are necessary, but that’s neither here nor there.

If they have exploitable information, maybe? I’m not sure where to draw the line there, though, it’s probably situational. If you think something is a possible security risk, you can let us know at


Last year I saw a class where their account names were [student’s full name]_[such-and-such high school] and their profile pictures were head shots. I thought that was very wince-worthy for a group of minors.


Usually it’s a paper with their name, class and sometimes date, it’s borderline ok and I haven’t seen it being ps-ed, so maybe that’s the direction those should take instead of using driving licence? (sure their names shouldn’t be full ones)


Now to me that sounds more difficult than a real observation!


I’ve never seen a guide that asks for specific items for identification, but I have seen guides that ask people to include items for scale. I would guess this is somewhat teachers trying to have students be “good” naturalists by embedding more potential data in their photos which is all well and good, I suppose.

I wonder if some teachers suggest the ID card because it is a known size and they know all students have one on them at most times as a way to standardize, not thinking about the personal information angle. Are there any teacher guides iNat has that a specific warning against including items with personally IDable info could be added to?


Recently near me there’s a college class that has made 2000+ observations with small objects in them, usually toys. I assumed scale might be what they were after but Tony’s thought makes more sense to me, since none of these toys are a known size and the students often do not place them next to the organism being photographed, just hold them out generally in front of the camera (a focus/depth of field nightmare).


I never actually wind up using it, but I have a plastic card in my wallet with a small ruler down one side. Something like that, or a small one of the white balance cards used for photography, can be a useful addition, and for some applications a 1-cm cube is used, but that’s about where I draw the limit.


i cant understand this. ive learned lots of users are/were not aware that this is a social site, but if the teacher can access all the students stuff then they should absolutely know that other people can see it, too. what is that teacher thinking?? if i was a parent i would be so mad. but im not a parent, especially not to high schoolers, because probably about the time those kids were born, i was a kid on the internet being told if you so much as say your first name on the internet then you will die. maybe the hyper paranoid approach to internet safety wasnt the best, but like, there are risks to putting your information on the internet, especially as a kid, so that teacher should be a lot more responsible. i know all those kids would have their own usernames if given the option


yes, but for a school project I’d enforce tight standards for usernames (if not assigning them based on some combination of name, area, etc.). Who here hasn’t seen the “creative” names some kids choose? And who here has never made a username that, in retrospect, they deeply regret?

it’s not that I don’t have a sense of humour, but keep shitposts between friends and in casual fora, not semi-professional ones please


Apart from the personal id issue. It is also not very helpful to have a label on 95% of the photo leaving only a fraction of the plant or animal available for ID. Which is often next to impossible. If class projects wants to check identity, they can check the metadata serial number of the camera or cellphone.

Clear guidelines would be good.


yeah, one project i helped with the students all got animal names followed by a number. Like SnappingTurtle45 or whatever


Yes! I’m often amazed at how much effort goes into criminal activity; a straight job seems easier. At least for someone risk-averse like me. ;-)


i don’t think its anywhere officially (i’ve asked previously. it’s real streaky (recently a chunk of rutgers) so it could be in a teacher guide outside inat. i would think the id cards fall under PII which i would think inat would not really want to store and it’s a bad habit to encourage in students.

maybe there should be like a printable inat scale cut-out card with a spot to write a name for students if copying is the concern.


I just curated the group project and reverse google imaged the sketchy stuff. it takes a lot of time that a lot of teachers probably don’t have, but I am a graduate student lab instructor that uses inat for fun soo…

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To answer the original question, yes, this is a suggestion I’ve come across while looking for ideas to redesign our labs when we were asked to convert everything to online/remote instruction during the pandemic. Specifically, I remember watching a YouTube video of a conference presentation about an online botany class that had students go out to take pictures for iNaturalist. They were asked to place an ID card next to the plant as proof that they took it. In this particular case, the card was issued by the instructor and sent to the students as part of their course pack for at-home lab activities. I have also come across a good number of observations that had similar “course cards” in them, sometimes including a ruler along the edge of the card, which actually adds useful info to the picture. So this seems to be something that is recommended by teachers to other teachers. I’ve been looking for that video but haven’t been able to find it again so far.


at least one group has started doing this within the last day so anyway they are findable here. would think a little thought about the written identifying details in terms of watermark is in order. i don’t think there’s a great answer tbh.

also, bc i have put this on here before, if teachers are doing this for classwork then, yes, they do need to deal with the not great student posting behavior or consider a different activity.


Definitely not for scale. This is becoming pretty standard for photo-based assignments. Each student is asked to choose a token item to include in their photos to make sure that the photos are their own original photos, not shared from a friend, recycled from a previous semester, or snagged from the internet. Of course, someone’s going to spend an hour photoshopping their token into a plagiarized photo, rather than spend an hour creating their own, but it does cut down on the copy-paste factor.