When Observations are Photos of Photos

I’ve seen an increase in the number of “observations” where a person takes a photo of a photo, computer screen, someone else’s mobile phone, etc. While the species involved are IDable, as a scientist I’m very concerned that this can lead to incorrect location information. Is this something others are encountering? Apologies if this has already been discussed, I couldn’t find any similar topics. Is there a standard reply we should give these observers? As an example, please see this observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27784695

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I’ve seen cases where someone took a smartphone pic of his buddy’s SLR camera screen, such as of a telephoto pic of a bird, presumably because the person lacked a telephoto camera. The assumption is that both saw the bird at same time/place, which might not always be the case. If it’s a photo of a Facebook page pic, that is a concern and requires some explanation by the submitter. I’d say any photo of a photo needs some explanation.

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If you’re pretty sure it’s not reflective of a real observation, you could go under the Data Quality Assesment and vote “no” on Evidence of organism & Recent evidence of an organism, but I think you’d also want to leave a comment asking about it-- if they respond and say that it’s a photo of something a group they were in saw but they didn’t get a photo, or something like that, and the photo was from the group, you would want to retract the votes against it. That’s what I think, anyways.

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Another consideration is copyright violation, especially if it’s obvious that the photo includes some portion of a website or a species that definitely doesn’t occur in the area of the observer. These can often be back-traced through a reverse image search, but it should be noted that this is more likely to be unreliable in cases of photos of photos. In cases of copyright infringement, the photo should be flagged as such (click the “i” icon on the photo in the observation, find “Flag This Photo”, and select “copyright infringement”).

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I’ve been noticing a lot of those too.

If it’s an obvious screen shot of a website, you can mark it as a copyright violation. When it’s less clear, I usually check the location it’s marked at - half the time it’s located in a suburban wasteland, and obviously not taken there, in which case I mark location inaccurate and move on. But it’s not always clear-cut.

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I have also seen a lot of cases like this, and wondered how best to treat them. The guidance quite clearly discourages using other people’s photos. However, for many of these cases, flagging for copyright infringement just seems too heavy-handed, since the originator appears to have willingly allowed their photo to be copied. The frequently used responses page also has a section related to this issue, but I’m not sure whether the suggested responses fully cover cases like this.

I think it may be better to just make the assumption that the date and location are very likely to be wrong, and vote accordingly in the DQA. It’s probably fair to do this even when the date/location seems plausible, given that the user hasn’t been explicit about the provenance of the photo. In itself, the observation may be valuable, but if the user didn’t make it, it probably shouldn’t be allowed to become research grade so easily. And I suspect that the user won’t really care very much about that, because very often they are just trying to get an ID for a friend who doesn’t have an iNat account.

I’m not overly familiar with how the DQA settings work, but in taking @bazwal 's suggestion, can’t someone come in later and change the date/location back to acceptable? I do agree that most of these violate iNat’s terms in that they are not the observer’s photos, but some could be. They also could be observations of a taxon that is found in the area, but the ‘photo of a photo’ is taken some distance away, in which case it still represents inaccurate data. I feel like we either need a standard response encouraging folks to change or take down their “observation” or the post needs to be flagged for all the reasons being given in these comments. Here’s another one from yesterday: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30254968

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Yes - but the downvotes will remain associated with the observation until the voter chooses to remove them, so that does still serve to indicate that the observation has (or had) DQA issues. However, I agree that this is not sufficient. More needs to be done to explicitly encourage users not to use other people’s photos - and also to encourage the other people to join iNat instead of allowing their photos to be copied.

PS: there’s another thread that deals with essentially the same issues that you might be interested in.