Policy clarification: observations of humans not wanting to be photographed

The help section mentions some cases where photos of humans should be hidden, but I would like to hear, especially from iNat staff:

What to do with an observation where a person is hiding its face or trying to turn away, apparently not wanting to be photographed?

For reference, the relevant portion of the Curator Guide is:
https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide#spam

The section mentions that any flagged photos of Humans can be hidden. In practice, I’ve certainly encountered photos of Humans that are flagged without good reason (eg, a flagger thinking observations of Humans aren’t allowed period on iNat) and have not hidden them just because they were flagged, so I don’t think this is a requirement for curators to automatically hide any photo of humans that is flagged.

My personal opinion is that there are always going to be cases where some curator judgment is necessary in interpreting the guidelines in response to a specific picture. The most relevant guideline here is probably the one about bullying/harassing - if the curator thinks that the picture probably crosses the line to this, it should be hidden. Certainly if the picture comes with a derogatory ID or other text, hiding seems appropriate.

However, I’d think that just “turning away” or assessing whether someone in a person in a picture is

can be pretty difficult to interpret.

In some cases this might be pretty obvious - an observation with multiple pics of only one subject where they are covering their face in all of them. But, for instance, what should be done in cases where there is an observation of a non-human organism, but a human in the background is turning away. Is this in response to the camera or just because the person was turning away? Even if it is, should someone’s legitimate picture of a non-Human observation be hidden because of someone in the background? I would say not. Another edge case is selfies where a person in the background who is not the focus of the pic also might be holding up their hand over their face. I’ve seen all of these irl on iNat.

I think there are always going to be gray areas in interpreting this situation such that creating any hard and fast rule to address it (eg, always/never hide any photo with…) will be challenging. As someone who handles a decent amount of Human flags, I think the current guidance with bullying/harassment is good and covers this situation in the broader sense, giving curators workable guidelines and allowing flexibility to respond to a variety of different situations.

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Being a curator myself, I’d like to have more clarity regarding these cases, thus I would very much appreciate a response from the admins.
And I am only talking about cases where the observation is uploaded as Homo sapiens or ‘unknown’ with clearly the person in the focus of the observation.

Here are other cases I can imagine:

  • Second scenario: multiple observations of one person are uploaded, but they are trying to hide their face only on one of these (and that observation may or may not be flagged). What if I come across such a case, how to deal with the other observations?

  • Third scenario: I, as a curator, receive a personal message with the request to delete/hide an observation where the requester has been photographed and uploaded. Unbeknownst to the requester, I encounter multiple photos where they are visible, some of them in a group with other people

  • Fourth scenario: I witness that school kids have uploaded photos of their class mates to iNat, without them noticing, and are now making fun of them. Should I take action myself in removing the photos, although the subjects did not know what was going on?

  • Fifth scenario: In 2026, observations of humans are analyzed by criminals with the help of an AI to find out their identity, to check whether they are currently on vacation and if their homes might be a suitable target for burglary

Sixth scenario: … (up to the reader to imagine other cases)


I quickly came up with these, sop there might be other unwanted use cases of human observations.

Bottom line is - a lot of responsibility, interpretation and evaluation is already required from curators. While everyone can decide about an anonymous username, there is less control about personal photos posted by others.

And while the last scenario might be unrealistic, we don’t know about the progress of AI abilities. Let’s not forget - observations are associated with a time and place, so they also allow for checking where one person was (or is at the moment) at what time (be it the observer or the subject of the observation).

I strongly advocate for taking some burden off the curators and change the policy such that observations of Homo sapiens are acceptable for inanimate objects and traces, but not of a person being in focus.

Not talking about the ‘value’ of such observations (from a naturalist’s perspective) here. Just want to put forward my opinion that such observations can be harmful in various ways and a policy change won’t be stronlgy opposed and should be easily followed.

I especially would like to see underage persons better protected.

No punishment should come with uploading photos of other persons, as it will only be a mild violation of term. Just that they can more easily be hidden by curators without much consideration of whether they are still appropriate or not.

And yes, there will always be persons visible on photos, be it in the background or holding objects, but this is not a case this thread is about (as those observations are not uploaded as Homo sapiens).

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to my eyes - that is bullying. I am not happy to see pictures of small children on iNat. Does iNat have formal guidelines for pictures of kids? Not justified by - oh but it’s a picture of the ‘blurry bug’

Six - obs of whatever, but with a very sharp focus on the nameless human ‘helpers’ (no names no links, but they are on iNat). Pictures of people should be with their explicit agreement. But there are many pictures of hiking groups with - something - that tree off to the left - as the obs.

I guess I would say that if your main interest is a response from staff it might be best to DM them rather than make a forum post soliciting ideas.

It sounds like your main aim is to push for a wholesale policy change to forbid observations where humans are the focal organism, though, which I believe staff has rejected in the past. That’s quite different than your initial question which was about a very specific situation, so, I find this change in the thread a bit confusing. I’ll only add a few quick responses since it seems like you are primarily interested in a staff response.

Your fourth scenario above certainly falls under existing guidance about bullying/harassment - photos of targets of insults/mockery can be hidden.

In general, I also think that your proposed solution to forbid Human observations where the focal organism is a person would not
be successful in

It would seem to require curator review of all Human observations and a judgment call on each about whether or not they are focusing on a Human followed by hiding them. This would be a massive undertaking given that there are millions of observations of Humans on iNat.

Here are some other existing threads about similar topics/ideas/questions which also include some staff responses:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/acceptable-observations-for-humans/47144
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/why-do-we-have-observations-of-human/13807
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/human-obs-used-for-cyberbullying/42458
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/observations-too-hastily-marked-as-inappropriate-how-do-you-deal-with-them/44046

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No, I want a discussion via the community.
I want to receive feedback and to hear how my point of view is seen by others (not only admins) - but I would be happy to hear some ‘official’ statements as well.

I want a honest discussion, because I think this is a sensitive topic and I feel it is important to regularly review it and also to think about future scenarios and use cases.

Sorry if the course of the thread confuses you - I started with an initial, easy scenario only to extend it to more complicated matters.
The title has been adjusted to this more specific first scenario by a forum moderator (I changed it again).

The fourth scenario is an interesting one, because it could be thought-provoking:
how likely is it that you as a bystander would witness someone mocking someone else?
Isn’t it rather likely that by the photo/observation alone a curator wouldn’t be able to tell if something is bullying/harassment, and that these cases of mockery occur unnoticed by someone responsible?

And also no, I am not advocating for going back deleting millions of observations or photos.
I am not even saying that from the hypothetical time point of policy change EVERY Human photo HAS to be removed.

But I feel that currently removing of photos is only supported when there is clear evidence or it is at least very likely that it is used against the will of the subject. With a policy change, at least no one should complain when respective actions are taken, even if the photo appears harmless.

Since you want general opinions from all of us, apparently, here’s mine. Life is too short to monitor all the pictures of humans that people post. If bullying or mockery is obvious, hide the photo. (Students often label photos with the names of toads, fish, donkeys, etc., apparently mocking the subject, we hope in a friendly way but we know sometimes not.) If a person seems to be angry or trying to avoid being photo’d, removing the photo is justified, though not required, I think. (We don’t really know what the person feels about being posted.)

If a person contacts you (by flagging the photo?) remove photos of humans if asked. Communicate as little or much as is necessary to resolve the issue, including perhaps discussion of other photos in the series.

We can imagine scenarios where crimes might result indirectly from posting a person. Mostly they won’t happen. Possibly they might. We can’t protect everyone, though, without removing all photos of humans. And given the reality that social media are here, people are going to have to learn to live with that risk. I view it like crossing streets or sending kids to the store alone – possible risk, but useful learning, too. Unless the subject asks for the photo to be removed, let it go.

My two cents. I expect others will feel differently.

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