Digital Life: Careful with those gym selfies

Make sure to respect others' privacy before snapping a selfie at the gym.

USA TODAY columnist Steven Petrow offers advice about digital etiquette.

Q: I was changing at the gym the other evening and the woman next to me was busy on her phone the whole time I was getting dressed – texting, talking, and she even took a selfie in front of her locker. I was really uncomfortable at the thought of a camera in a place where people are, you know, naked, and where I could accidentally end up “exposed” in one of her photos! How would have handled this situation?

— Name withheld, Los Angeles.

A: Selfies. Selfies. Selfies! And, naturally, gym selfies. The first thing I’d do is start using a different locker and get out of the way of this gym paparazzo. That’ll resolve your immediate concern about a semi-clothed (or worse) photo of you turning up on someone’s Instagram page or being broadcast on Snapchat. If you end up near her again, you could use your “nice tone” and say: “I’m not sure what the rules are about taking photos in the locker room, but please make sure I’m not in yours.”.

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But let’s talk rules. Fortunately, many health clubs (especially the larger ones) have instituted “no photo” and “no video” policies. For instance, Bally Total Fitness’s guidelines state that members “cannot take any pictures or videos in the club or locker rooms.” Lifetime Fitness’s rules are similar: No videos or photos without approval from the manager. Equinox Fitness has had signs in its clubs that read: “Can you hear me now? Cell free zone.” But smartphone-free is not the answer with so many of us using our iPhones and Androids to measure our heartbeats, follow workouts, and listen to music.

In your case, talk with the club manager to make sure members’ privacy from photos is protected, especially in locker rooms. If not, press your point and ask the gym to create such a policy. If rules exist prohibiting photos in private areas, discuss how to improve their promotion and enforcement. Then, it’s up to your manager to decide how to deal with the rule breakers. I think it’s completely reasonable to revoke someone’s membership after a warning or two, especially with so many voyeurs out there who would deliberately take revealing (or just embarrassing) photos of others.

Now, what does the law say about locker rooms or shared shower areas and bathrooms? Fortunately, state statutes generally do provide protections for us in those spaces, where we have what’s called “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” But these are generally civil statutes, not criminal ones — the victim would have to file a lawsuit against the photographer, which doesn’t help much when you’re stripping out of your sweaty gym togs.

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Agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments section.

Submit your question to Steven at [email protected]. You can also follow Steven on Twitter: @StevenPetrow. Or like him on Facebook at facebook.Com/stevenpetrow.