Microsoft Office 365 profile photos in the workplace: welcome to creepy factor 4,000.

Office 365 is a delightfully useful bundle of tools. If you are familiar with it then you are also familiar with one seriously disturbing feature of Office 365. The profile photo. When a user uploads a profile photo to his or her profile, this image shows up in all kinds of places including at the top of ANY email the person sends to other employees.

For some reason I have found this feature to be extremely distracting and disturbing. The issue surfaces when I receive an email from an employee I do not know. Regardless of the content of the email (positive, negative or neutral content), if it is from someone I am not familiar with, and I see their face staring back at me, I instantly have a negative perception of the sender. I think they are either conceited (when they are posing for the photo) or unprofessional (when they are using a fictitious character or famous person for their photo).

I am surprised such a simple feature of showing a face on an email has generated such a harsh reaction from me. Here are a few possible theories as to why this feature bothers me:

  • It could have something to do with how I categorize email in my brain. Email is a colorless, ageless and gender-less platform of communication. I like it that way, it forces more of a focus on a task and eliminates the unnecessary weirdness I get from some people when I have to see them in person (elevator eyes, comments regarding my appearance, yada yada yada).
  • I am very familiar with how I am treated in public online platforms (like when playing Chess) once users discover I am female so I avoid revealing such information. I have become accustomed to concealing my identity via online communication for so long that I now see any attempt to knowingly reveal such information as a terrible decision that will cause problems.
  • Maybe I am just freaked out by a stranger staring at me via the weird little circular photo as I try to read the email. You know, like how that cute little guard dog was trying to do his job at the children’s museum but was freaked by all the teddy bears staring at him: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14154738/ns/world_news-weird_news/t/elvis-teddy-bear-leaves-building-hard-way/#.Xi8FNWhKhaQ.

We humans are so weird, I cannot imagine what aliens from other galaxies must think of us.

Taking photos of humans (and posting to the world) without permission – seriously creepy

Schnikes!  If the scientific community has not already done this, I hope they dedicate research into the odd behavior I see again and again online regarding the capturing of photos of humans and the subsequent posting of the photos to public social media platforms without the consent/knowledge of the humans in the photos.

The cycle is always the same:

  1. A person with a camera is in a public place
  2. The person takes a photo of a stranger in the public place
  3. The person publishes the photo to social media with the plea to “help me find this person….blah blah blah”
  4. The person pleads their case in a disguise of kindness and goodwill in the hopes they will not be deemed a freakish stalker by the masses for taking a photo of a human in public and then sharing the human’s photo with the world without his or her permission or knowledge.
  5. The masses go hog wild for the heart-warming tale

The cycle changes drastically when these scenarios are encountered:

SCENARIO 1:  If the person(s) in the photograph has no obvious physical abnormalities (scars, too thin, too heavy, too short, too tall, crooked teeth, stained teeth, unflattering expression, unflattering hair style, etc.), public reactions appear to be primarily in supportive of the photographer posting the photo of the stranger.  Supporters are quick to point out specific laws are on the side of the photographer when snapping certain kinds of photos in public, or they gush about the artistic qualities of the photograph or how the photo is bringing great joy and those questioning the behavior of snapping photos of humans are quickly dismissed as being paranoid or foolish.  A happy ending of making a “connection” with the world and the human is often a heartwarming end result.

SCENARIO 2:  If the person(s) in the photograph show signs of physical abnormalities (scars, too thin, too heavy, too short, too tall, crooked teeth, stained teeth, unflattering expression, unflattering hair style, etc.), public reactions appear to be primarily hostile toward the human in the photo with no real reactions one way or the other to the photographer.  The ending in this scenario leads to public humiliation for the subject of the photo.

Other scenarios occur as well but the two noted above seem to garner the most extreme reactions from the masses.  Different groups of people will engage in scenarios best suited to their default behaviors but I wonder if the reactionaries consider the consequences of the publicity of the subjects.  This is not a photo tucked into a photo album on grandma’s coffee table, it is a photo distributed world wide – huge difference.

I think it is seriously creepy to photograph a human (without his or her permission) and then post the photo online for the world to see.  I don’t know how famous people deal with this behavior.  It is so strange.  Science can only observe and study and then tell us why we behave the way we do.  Maybe it doesn’t matter what we do or who we do it to because in the end we are nothing more than rotting matter in the dirt that once stained our faces.

[scary music of doom here] 😉

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