New research has come out this week that shows just over half of Australians have used their smartphone to send a naughty photo, and that one in 20 of these could actually have this used eventually as a threat. Could this happen to you, and what can you do to stop it?

In this day and age, we’re actually using our dedicated cameras less and less, and thus relying on smartphones more for imagery. So much that 81 percent of Australians use smartphones for most pictures compared to the 69 percent that still go back and find the camera.

Since these devices are almost always tied to the web, it’s very easy to send pictures to friends, with some devices even synchronising those files to image backup websites automatically.

In some instances, the pictures can be intimate, with 51 percent of Australians sending personal texts or photos in the past, and an expected 34 percent sending more when Valentine’s Day rocks up next week. We’re not doing it as much as other parts of the world, with 80 percent of people in both France and Mexico taking advantage of the online world to send personal images, texts, and videos.

But while we’d never try to dampen one’s love life, sending photos deemed private can have some devastating results, especially if the receiver ever decides to be vindictive against the sender.

“Sharing personal and intimate information may seem like harmless fun to many Australians but it’s important they realise that once a private message or photo is out of their hands, they can’t control where it goes or who sees it,” said McAfee’s Sean Duca, Enterprise Solutions Architect for McAfee in the Asia Pacific region.

“It’s clear that many people feel comfortable sharing private information and passwords with their partners, but they also need to consider the risks involved in doing so, and that if those relationships end, their information can end up in the wrong hands.”

From the research McAfee has conducted, almost 20 percent of Australians have regretted sending intimate photos once a relationship ended, and a few more even asked an ex to delete the photos one they had broken up. Worse, five percent of Australians have had an ex threaten to post the photos, while three percent of those surveyed had been fired from leaked personal images.

The result is troubling, because we all know that people can get angry at points, and revenge can grow out of this anger.

But are there any ways to stop people from leaking this information, especially if it can be harmful?

“It comes down to the decisions you make,” said Duca. “You need to consider what information you are sharing with others, what public domain are you sharing it in – social networks, for example – who you are giving the information to and whether that person has the potential to pass it on to others.”

Some things can even cause more harm than the initial burst of good you intended from the beginning. What started out as a harmless clip could become something far worse, especially if anyone else sees it.

“The impact is going to be different in every case depending on the type of content leaked, who sees it, how they perceive it and a number of other variables,” said Duca. “Depending on those factors, it could result in a bit of embarrassment or, in more extreme cases, damage to other relationships or job loss. Anything is possible.

“Once information is out of your hands, you have little to no control of it.”

Before you take a photo or video, or even write a text that was written for just one person, take care to see if you really trust that person. If you’d hate to have that information surface in the real world, it might be worth telling or showing them in person, rather than have the rest of the world see it.