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From NYC to China this woman’s photo was used by advertisers without her knowing


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Shubnum Khan advertises a lot of different products – from McDonald’s in China to villas in Florida – and is the smiling face of immigration in at least two countries.

But Khan, an author from South Africa who is published by Penguin, had not intentionally tried to get work as a stock photo model and doesn’t endorse any of the products now linked to her face.

When her picture was first spotted by a friend – explaining the virtues of immigration in Canada – she started to piece together what had happened.

At university some years earlier, she and friends had had pictures taken for a project. The photographer had also taken three pictures of her in different facial poses, and unwittingly Khan had signed over the rights to her image.

The small print meant the photographer could sell Khan’s pictures and buyers could use it as they wished – even assigning her a different identity and modifying the pictures digitally.

Her ethnicity “varies according to whim” depending on who is using the picture and why, Khan said about the examples of which she has become aware.

On a website for villas to rent in Florida, Khan becomes Kelsie from Arizona who stayed for a family trip to Disneyworld. The testimonial suggests she would “likely stay again”, despite the fact that she had to buy her own toilet paper and paper towels.

While some adverts were “innocent enough”, say for dental sedation, others were about removing eye bags, post-pregnancy melasma and hyperpigmentation cream.

Amusingly for an author, her picture is used on the front cover of at least three non-fiction books.

Khan shared the full story in a thread on Twitter which she billed as a cautionary tale – urging people to be sure what they are signing with regards to pictures and how they could be used by others in the future.

She has managed to get the photographer to take her image down from sale only because her real work is getting her known and recognised.

But people responded to Khan’s thread revealing even more places where her image was being used.

And if that wasn’t enough, Khan has more capers to talk about.

Bodes well for her book.

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