Photo bombing your own email


Q: Recently several of my colleagues have told me that my photo shows up in Outlook 2013 when they receive and open my email messages, and the worst part is that the photo is a picture of a cat (pictured below). I don’t understand why or how this is happening or what I need to do to stop it. Can you help me get the cat out of the bag?











A: I believe the picture of the cat in question is a default picture provided by previous editions of Windows for use in setting up Windows user accounts. Windows also provided other default user account pictures, such as a yellow flower and a soccer ball. I suspect that you might have selected this cat picture as your user account image years ago when you set up Windows on an older computer, and back then your colleagues used this Windows user account image to set you up as a contact in their contact managers. Evidently, this cat image of you has lived on in their contact managers but has not made its existence known until now. Read on for an explanation.

By default, the latest two editions of Outlook (2013 and 2010) display a People Pane below each opened email summarizing the sender’s information from five separate sources, as follows.

1. Windows user account. If you were a network user on the same local area network as your colleagues, depending on the steps they used to add you to their Outlook Contact Manager, they could have added you, including your Windows user account picture of the cat, in their Contact Manager many years ago. Now that they are using a newer edition of Outlook that displays the People Pane’s summary information, their system is simply displaying this older information associated with your email address as contained in their Outlook Contact Manager. I think this explains your specific situation, but other colleagues could be experiencing similar image issues, as further explained below.

2. Contact Manager. Your colleagues may have uploaded a picture of you into their Contact Manager from a personal photograph or from a photograph found on the internet. If so, Outlook’s People Pane can display those pictures each time your colleagues open email messages from you. (If so, let’s hope they uploaded a flattering picture.)

3. Social media. If your colleagues have enabled Outlook’s new Social Connector, then Outlook’s People Pane can retrieve and display your photograph from Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media websites. (In this case, you have control of the image displayed.)

4. Microsoft Exchange. If you and your colleagues use Microsoft Exchange, then your digital ID certificates including your information and picture (if any) are automatically published in the Global Address List, and Outlook’s People Pane can retrieve and display your photograph from this source. (Again, in this case you have control of the image displayed.)

5. Microsoft Lync. If you use Microsoft’s instant messaging client (available through Microsoft Lync Server, Microsoft Office 365, or Live@edu), then Outlook’s People Pane can retrieve and display your picture from these sources. (Yet again, in this case you have control of the image displayed.)

When People Pane finds multiple pictures available from the sources described above, People Pane selects and uses just one of those pictures to represent you according to the following priority order: Lync first, followed by Exchange, social media, and then Outlook Contact Manager sources. In addition to displaying the sender’s picture, People Pane can also display all of the sender’s prior emails, attachments, alternative email addresses, scheduled meetings, and social media activity—including comments, pictures, or videos he or she may have posted. A few examples of this summary information are pictured below.

Obviously, this type of summary information can be potentially useful to recipients as it might help them better identify the sender, communicate more efficiently (as all contact data is instantly accessible), or communicate in greater depth.














The problem is that the sender is often unaware that the recipient is viewing his or her picture and detailed information in this manner, and it is possible that the photographs, information, and social media activity conveyed in this manner do not properly portray the professional image the sender prefers or intends. To ensure that you are viewed in a professional light, consider these measures:

1. In Outlook. Create a new Outlook vCard (with updated photo and information) and send it to all of your Outlook contacts and request that they update your contact information on their computers to ensure that they are viewing the proper contact data. Instructions for creating and sending a vCard can be found in the February 2012 Tech Q&A item “The Paperless Business Card."

2. In Facebook. Hovering over your profile picture and clicking the pop-up menu labeled Edit Profile Picture displays Facebook’s privacy policy concerning profile pictures, and this pop-up explains that your profile picture is not private. Currently, there is no option for preventing your Facebook profile picture from being harvested and displayed in Outlook (or elsewhere), short of deleting your Facebook profile picture.








Facebook’s security message (pictured above) includes the phrase “you can change who sees it,” but this phraseology is confusing because this caption refers only to the ability to limit who sees your profile picture as it appears in your picture album, but no such limits apply to your picture as it appears in your Facebook profile. If you prefer that your email recipients not see your Facebook profile picture each time they open an email from you, one option is to remove your Facebook profile picture completely, in which case a male or female silhouette image will be displayed, as shown below.






Another option might be to use a different picture that conveys your personality, such as a sporting image, cartoon character, or comical silhouette.






My advice is to use an acceptable profile photo as a courtesy so those with whom you communicate can better recognize you.

3. In your recipients’ Outlook. Your recipients can adjust their Outlook 2013 settings by selecting File, People, and unchecking the various People Pane display options, as pictured below. (Or they can disable People Pane from Outlook’s View tab by selecting People Pane, Off.) (In Outlook 2010 and 2007, they would select File, Options, Contacts to adjust these similar settings.)





Obviously, this approach is somewhat out of your control as your colleagues must make this type of adjustment on their computers.

Be sure to also check the privacy settings for the other social media websites you use. For better or worse, today’s technology enables an unprecedented level of information sharing, and we all must be diligent to protect our information, as well as the professional image we convey.




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