Observations of humans: what is iNaturalist's consent policy?

Does iNaturalist have some sort of policy about uploading Observations of humans who did not consent to having their image shared on the site? iNat does have very thorough Privacy Policies and address how Observational data are used (which you can read about here), but it’s all about the data themselves (time, coordinates, etc.), not the subject of the Observation.

Let’s say another user posted a Homo sapiens observation of me. Regardless of whether this other user is a good pal or a complete stranger, I was not consulted about this. I want it taken down and I want the user to be aware about this. What would be the procedure? And what if I wasn’t a user on iNaturalist and I just saw that a picture of me was on the site? I feel like this is a more ethically involved issue that could not just be addressed in a Flag for “copyright infringement”, and to post pictures of others who are unaware they are being shared on the site should actively be discouraged in our Policies.

To be clear, I am completely unaware of how other photo-sharing social sites handle this, if at all, but for comparision here is Instagram’s Terms of Use and Facebook’s Terms of Service.

(To avoid derailing this topic, please try to divorce “we should not upload pictures of people on iNat who didn’t agree to it because its unethical/invasive” from “we shouldn’t have any pictures of Humans on iNat at all because the data are meaningless”. They are separate matters.)


Great question, and I look forward to hearing response(s) from staff.

It may end up that the “separate matters” you identified really aren’t so separable – in that maybe the only way to ensure that unauthorized photos of people are not visible (and discourage their posting) is to automatically hide any and all photos IDed and/or flagged as humans. (Flagging maybe needing to become a new curatorial functionality.)

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I really have been thinking about this myself. It sometimes did feel a bit strange when pictures of people were posted as observations. Of course most of them were casual photos, but it should be a matter of concern.
I really do look forward to the response.


I have raised this issue in the past with iNat.org admin and found them to be rather uninterested in the problem. It is particularly troubling in cases which could be considered “bullying”, e.g. when a school kid uploads a photo of another school kid and identifies them as a dog or something.


To be fair, I don’t think this is an immediate problem. I suspect that most people who post pictures of Human Observations are just trying to test out the app, and may even remove the observation themselves.

However, iNaturalist’s user base continues to expand. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to prevent something from becoming a problem in the future, rather than wait to address it only after the fact.


The policy (which is different than the law which has multiple layers here) is pretty straightforward. A photo of a human will only be removed if it is illegal or represents a threat to the safety of the individual, or a specific request from the individual depicted (or their legal guardian) to remove is sent.

In most cases, at least in North America, as an adult, consent for your photo to be taken and/or posted is not required. There are a few specific legal exceptions, but those rarely come up on the site.

Does anyone know offhand if there is actually any effort by those sites to control unwanted sharing? To me it appears to be a complete free for all on instagram, facebook, Twitter, etc where no consent is needed to share any photo of any sort unless it’s pornographic or something. Is that not the case?

To be clear I am not saying iNat shouldn’t aspire to a higher standard than that, but it’s helpful to know where the baseline is. I don’t think we should have any tolerance towards bullying or images that might be harmful or a security risk for children. Beyond that, I am not sure deleting all ‘human’ photos is the best choice as we have some neat ones from meetups and such.


Not to mention all the pictures of people pointing at the tree they’re interested in, or holding up the cool bug they just found.

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Yeah, I think that is where the main potential for issues exists on iNaturalist. If indeed we state clearly that photos of individual humans will be removed on request of the person depicted, then maybe, hopefully, that reactive rather than proactive approach is enough?

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Kids may be reluctant to make that request, for fear of inviting further taunting or bullying. I understand the idea of wanting people to have the concept that humans are one species among many, but I don’t think it’s worth it, especially since so many kids are not doing iNaturalist by choice.


Fair point. And I should have said “person depicted or their legal guardian,” for what it’s worth.

while i don’t think we should hide all photos of any humans, i think a flag/photo hiding similar to copyright infringement for inappropriate photos of kids might make sense (ones where they have organisms in their hand are grey areas)


Another way at looking at it is this: do we really want observations of humans. In theory, yes, but in practice no. So what is gained or lost be deleting them? I don’t think anything is lost. The gains are:
(1) freeing up more database memory space (but I don’t know if this is a significant gain?);
(2) avoiding the possibility of a nightmare scenario in which some kid ends up dead due to reacting badly to some derogatory identification of them!
We only need to delete straightforwardly pointless or clearly derogatory cases. Grey areas can be ignored, like people just holding an insect or pointing to a plant, with no inappropriate comments/identifications.

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This post is wildly inappropriate. Please edit it.

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Inappropriate in what way? It would be wildly inappropriate if it actually happened, but I don’t see a problem in making the general abstract point that something along these lines could potentially happen. I don’t currently see sufficient grounds for considering it to be an inappropriate post, just your own subjective opinion.

If you truly don’t know why it’s inappropriate you can message me or one of the other mods but meanwhile i suggest you fix it.

Is that a little better?

Yes, thank you.

I guess that when I dream up an example of something, I like to add in a lot of unnecessary detail!

This is a scenario that’s crossed my mind a lot of times when seeing photos of students on iNaturalist. Even if nothing that drastic happens, I wonder how many students don’t continue on iNaturalist because of this?

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