From Flickr to TV, Some Online Pics Not So Private

Some big businesses allegedly cruise on-line albums for unwitting ad stars.

Oct. 10, 2008 — -- During a lazy Sunday afternoon of watching football on Fox Sports with her husband, Tracey Gaughran-Perez suddenly became very interested in the game -- not for the plays, but for the commercials. She was especially interested in the one that included a picture of her dog Truman in a Santa suit.

In a similar fashion, Allison Chang, unbeknownst to her, became the star of a Virgin Mobile ad campaign in Australia.

What the two women have in common is that their now-famous pictures were posted on the online photo scrapbooking site Flickr for their friends and family to see.

Some major companies, however, reportedly cruise sites like Flickr in search of free images to use in their ad campaigns -- sometimes without contacting the owner of the picture.

"I felt more upset than anything, because I just wasn't asked," Gaughran-Perez told "Good Morning America." "If they had asked me and said, 'Can we use a hilarious photo of your dog in a Santa suit?' I would've been like, 'That's fine.'"

The Chang family is going a step further and suing Virgin Mobile for, among other things, invasion of privacy, libel and copyright infringement.

"She was insulted, offended. She never consented to the use of her picture," Ryan Zehl, the Changs' attorney, told "Good Morning America." "What Virgin Mobile did was irresponsible, unethical and illegal. They should have contacted Allison's parents and they should have gotten their consent."

Virgin Mobile said the case should be dismissed in the United States and tried in Australia. According to a court filing by the telecommunications giant, Virgin Mobile Australia claimed that when Chang posted her photo, she marked it for unrestricted use, including commercials.

Gaughran-Perez, however, specifically toggled her pictures to restricted use.

"Flickr allows you to put an actual copyright notice on every photo, and I've had that engaged forever," she said.

Gaughran-Perez said the matter was settled with Fox Sports when the company apologized and paid her for the photo.

Flickr told "Good Morning America" that it encourages any individual or business who wants to use photos on Flickr to contact the owner directly to ask their permission.

Kevin Mitnick, a former hacker turned security consultant, knows the dangers of putting pictures online.

"There might be some tricks that hackers can get access to those photos without having those passwords.

According to Mitnick, the best thing anyone can do to protect their online photos is to keep their user names and passwords secure and make sure the photos are marked "private" -- especially because some online companies automatically make the photos public unless otherwise instructed.