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Screenshots are helpful and can be fun, but are they legal and ethical? What about social media?

Iphone Screenshots

A screenshot, also called a screencap or screengrab, is an image that shows what is on the screen of a computer or device such as a phone or a kindle. Screenshots let you take a picture of what’s on your screen so you can share it with others or look it up later. Taking screenshots, saving them, and sharing them can be very helpful.

There are many reasons why people take screenshots. Some people take screenshots to capture a moment from a video game or to save an image from the internet. Others take screenshots to document something they are working on or to share a funny conversation with a friend.

There are many legitimate reasons for taking screenshots, such as for documentation, educational purposes, or personal use.


  1. To document and share an error message or other bug you’ve encountered. 
  2. To show how to do something on a computer, phone, or another device. 
  3. To share a funny or interesting post from social media. 
  4. To document settings on a computer, phone, or another device. 
  5. To capture a screenshot for a design mock-up. 
  6. To save an image from the internet. 
  7. To show progress on a project. 
  8. To document data. 
  9. To create a backup. 
  10. To print a screenshot. 
  11. To annotate a screenshot. 
  12. To resize a screenshot. 
  13. To save a screenshot in a different file format. 
  14. To take a screenshot on a phone or other device with a touchscreen (sometimes, for software development and training purposes, it is helpful to show what the screen looks like on a particular phone model).
  15. To take a screenshot on a computer using a keyboard shortcut (sometimes, for training or software development purposes, it is helpful to show what a screen looks like on a computer screen).


Got a business case for automating screenshots?

There are many ways to take a screenshot. Most users use the Print Screen button on their computer, using Microsoft’s own inbuilt snipping tool, simple applications like SnagIt, or holding down Shift, Command, and 3 keys on a Mac. Google which buttons to press on your model of phone. There are many neat tools and methods to help you take a screenshot. One of the best is Screenshotlayer, an API that can be integrated with other programming languages and software and can be used by any app to take screenshots of any website. The software has advanced export options that let users either save screenshots as image files to their computer or upload screenshots to the Amazon Web Services Bucket or an FTP path they choose. 

Using a screenshot API is better than just taking a screenshot with your phone because you can set screenshots to work on a timer. For example, you could take a picture of an auction site at a certain time or webcam footage on another site.

You might want to set up the screenshot API to work when a weather API tells you that it is raining in a particular place or when a stock API tells you that a stock has reached a specific price. This could cause the API to take a photo of a news service.

With some basic programming skills, you can customize the results of what images a screenshot API may send you by applying an Image to Text API, Face Pixelizer API to anonymize people’s faces, or a Smart Image Cropping API for optimizing pictures for sharing on social networks. These are just some of the many options of things you can do when you combine a screenshot API with other available APIs.

A law enforcement agency might combine a screenshot API with a social media API and image detection API for nudity detection or minor detection to instantly take a screenshot anytime a person posts inappropriate words or images.

Computer users these days certainly have a lot more options, control, and flexibility in when and how they can activate screenshots. Are there any ethical considerations?


When should you not take screenshots?

There are a few ethical and legal issues to consider when taking screenshots. First, if you are taking a screenshot of someone else’s work (e.g., a website or document), you should make sure you have their permission before doing so. Otherwise, you may be violating their copyright. Second, if you take a screenshot of confidential or sensitive information (e.g., a medical record), you should ensure you have the proper authorization to do so. Otherwise, you may be violating patient privacy laws.

Just be careful how you use screenshots. For example, if you shared a screenshot of someone’s private messages or emails and shared them without the person’s consent, you would be violating their privacy. Fraudsters may use screenshots to steal someone’s identity by taking a picture of their driver’s license or passport.


Is it illegal to take screenshots or photos of people?

There is no definitive answer, as the legality of screenshotting a photograph of someone depends on the circumstances in which the photograph was taken and how it is used. Generally speaking, it is unlikely that taking a screenshot of a photograph without the subject’s permission would be considered illegal unless it infringes on their privacy or could cause them harm. When the photograph is considered copyrighted material, taking a screenshot of it would be regarded as unlawful.

The legality of taking screenshots of social media content depends on several factors. These include the terms and conditions of the social media platform in question and any applicable copyright or privacy laws.


Just because you can take screenshots doesn’t mean that you should

Just because you can easily take screenshots doesn’t mean that you should. More and more technologies are implementing methods to either block screenshots or alert other users when screenshots are taken. There could be many reasons someone would want to be alerted if you take a screenshot. For example, if you are taking a screenshot of a confidential document, the other person may want to know so they can take measures to protect the information. Or, if you are taking a screenshot of a conversation, the other person may want to know so they can continue the conversation offline.


Be careful of what you post on social media

Knowing just how much control and surveillance is possible for others through screenshot APIs, social media APIs, and other image surveillance APIs, you should be careful what you share on social media.

You should be conscious that what you post on social media and others may screenshot may get you in trouble. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn users do not receive notifications when other users screenshot their stories and other content.

You should also be conscious that you won’t always get away with taking screenshots on social media without the consent of others. Suppose you are thinking of taking screenshots of Snapchat or Instagram conversations. In that case, the other person may get notified, which may become legally problematic if you don’t have their consent.


Rules for notifying users of screenshots on Instagram explained

Although Instagram no longer notifies users when screenshots are taken from their stories, it used to and could change again with future policy changes and technical upgrades.

Be aware that if you take a screenshot of a disappearing photo or video sent to you via a direct message, Instagram will let the sender know that you viewed their message.

The other user will be notified of screenshots in the conversation summary on the main messages page of your account, where the notation “Screenshot” will be displayed. On the main screen for messages, you can also see if someone has taken a screenshot of the conversation.


How to avoid getting caught taking screenshots on Instagram

There are ways others have found how not to get caught taking Instagram screenshots. So even if you think your content is private, it is likely that someone has discovered a hack or a workaround for taking a screenshot of it.

Instagram Screenshots

Istanbul, Turkey – December 15, 2018: Person holding a brand new Apple iPhone X with Instagram profile on the screen. Instagram is an online mobile social networking service, launched in October 2010.

  • Launch Instagram in a web browser

If you open Instagram in a web browser on your personal computer and navigate to the direct messages section, you can capture a screenshot of a photo or video about to disappear without the other person being aware of it.


  • Put your phone in airplane mode

If you take a screenshot of the vanishing Instagram photo or video while your phone is set to airplane mode, the person who was the subject of the screenshot will not be informed of your action.


  • Use a different camera or device

Of course, you can also take a picture of the display on your computer using a different camera or device; however, the result may not be of the highest quality.


Being aware of the workarounds above, be cautious of what you share. If you are thinking of taking a screenshot of a private message, isn’t it just better to get consent first for screenshots that may contain sensitive information?


Reserve doing screenshots for business case use scenarios, being careful not to infringe copyright or privacy laws. There are some excellent tools like screenshotlayer that can help you do that. Learning a bit of basic Python coding can also help you to take advantage of the screenshotlayer API.

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