There’s a standard admonition that you hear nowadays, which is, "never post naked pictures of yourself on the Web, because they’ll be there “forever” (or at least for the remainder of your natural life, when it might matter to you). Furthermore, you are told, there’s facial recognition software being refined even as we speak, which will let anyone, even 40 years from now, pin your name and address to that photo, and you’ll be screwed in all kinds of ways, or maybe just the regular way.
Okay, but- an anecdote. Ten years or so ago, I saved a bunch of amateur shots of woman from a site we’ll call Whip 'Em Out-dot-com. The other day, I looked through those old pics and wondered if they were indeed still out there. I went back to Whip 'Em Out, still functioning, and searched for one particular image of a woman we’ll call Toots. Not there. Apparently Whip 'Em deletes their older material, for whatever reason, and a ten-year-old picture will no longer show up.
But would Toots not likely have spread to other corners of the Web? Let’s pretend that every picture posted on every site is saved by someone - maybe 50 someones. How likely is it to pop up again, now or in the future?
I went to the popular image search engine, TinEye, which lets you upload an image, which it claims to compare with billions of others, and returns results of where else it can be found. (It seems to be forgiving enough to recognize a picture that has been cropped, resized or otherwise altered, even radically.) I gave it Toots, and it found no examples of her anywhere on the Web.
Intrigued, I did the same thing with 50 or so of my other Whip 'Em ladies, and was surprised at how rarely anything turned up - maybe one out of six - and when it did, it was often to be found on multiple sites. What these “hits” did have in common was, each seemed to have a standout feature - mainly very attractive women, but pose, lighting, setting etc. seemed to count too. But run of the mill pictures, even assuming they exist in multiple caches out there, seem not to get reposted much and tend to go away after awhile.
The unanswered question is, how efficient is TinEye or any other image scouring program at finding matches? Still, with that as a caution, I would amend the advice to, your naked shot might be out there forever, but probably won’t be if you make sure to pick one that’s rather ordinary. I would say that, since a conservative estimate of the number of such pics would be squillions, the half-life of one not particularly special photo is rather short.