Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why You Should Never Use Flash Photo Gallery Software

I mentioned in a previous post that even large companies like Disney don't do a great job of protecting their images online.  You probably don't have an in-house software development team like them, so at some point you may want to consider purchasing software to display, and protect, your photographs online.  Some photographers like to use Flash photo gallery software to display their work, and count on the built-in watermarking features to protect their images.  Some also believe that because you can't "right click to download" the images, their website visitors won't be able to steal the photos. For photographers with a lot of pictures to show, or without a lot of time, or who may not be very technical, these all-in-one software packages can be a tempting solution.  But actually, all Flash photo gallery software is inherently unsafe because they send the un-watermarked photograph to the visitors browser.

Take A4Desk Flash Photo Gallery Builder as an example (it was the very first one advertised when I searched for "flash photo gallery").  When a user clicks on an image in the gallery, the original image is sent from the server to the user's browser, and then the A4Desk software puts the watermark on the image after it's arrived at the user's browser.  Unfortunately,  it's possible for a user to see the original URL of the image (via software like Firebug) and request it from another tab in their browser, bypassing the protection that the Flash gallery offers.

Left: Watermarked image from A4Desk.   Right: Original image retrieved from their server.
I hate to pic on A4Desk, because the problem is not unique to their software, and otherwise it's a nice product.  This is a basic flaw of every Flash image gallery.  If you don't watermark your images before they're sent to the website visitor, they're vulnerable to theft.  So please, watermark your photographs.