Facebook's new profile picture guard will make it more difficult for others to download your images, prevent unknown users from tagging themselves in your profile photo, and even attempt to prevent people taking images of your profile. A blue border around pictures and a shield sign will signal that safety measures are on.
The tool is aimed specifically at Indian women, who are especially vulnerable to abuse online. Many prominent female Indian actors, journalists and public figures have reported receiving rape threats or their images misused.
In a statement launching the new tool, Facebook product manager Aarti Soman wrote: “Profile pictures are an important part of building community on Facebook because they help people find friends and create meaningful connections. But not everyone feels safe adding a profile picture.
“In our research with people and safety organizations in India, we’ve heard that some women choose not to share profile pictures that include their faces anywhere on the Internet because they’re concerned about what may happen to their photos.”
Paradoxically, India's craze for taking selfies has reached dangerous heights. In 2016, the country had more selfie-related deaths than anywhere else in the world. Users are willing to take risks, such as standing in front of an oncoming train, or at the edge of cliffs, for flattering photos. But sharing those pictures online? Too risky, Indians think.
Amy Binns, a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, said that there a number of reasons people don't post images of themselves, including not wanting to be judged by appearance. But many have real qualms about online safety, she said. “There have long been cases of celebrities' faces being photoshopped onto pornographic pictures, and as this technology becomes more common and easier to use, this has become more common for ordinary people,” Binns said.
In traditional cultures, like India's, Binns said, shaming women is much easier. “A woman may be shamed by a picture of herself simply with her hair uncovered, or in skimpy clothes,” she said.
Facebook has 184 million users in India, the second-highest number in the world, after the United States. As India builds its Internet infrastructure through flagship “Digital India” schemes under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development-focused government, tech giants are racing to connect with the “next billion” online users. Cheap smartphones have made the Internet accessible even in rural parts of the country where basic infrastructure, such as for water and sanitation, are lacking.
In 2016, Facebook's efforts to roll out its Free Basics scheme to provide free Internet on select websites were blocked by net neutrality protesters, who argued the service would make the company too powerful in India, and Indian regulators, concerned about discriminatory prices for Internet service, even when it is free. Now, the company is rolling out Express WiFi to expand connectivity in rural pockets. Google and Microsoft have launched initiatives to make the Internet more accessible to India's 1.25 billion people.