Kids, social media and privacy are an unsettling mix for most parents these days.
While it’s wonderful to share the joy of a new baby, your child’s latest achievement or their first day at school, revealing too much information can pose a risk.
Identification details such as a child’s full name, their date of birth and where they were born end up on official documents such as birth certificates and passports. Because these details are fixed, it’s important to keep them private to protect one’s identity. Once lost, privacy, as well as your own identity, is difficult to claw back.
A stranger’s ready access to this information can be used for unsavoury activities that will have distressing effects on your child, including identity theft, cyberbullying, stalking and kidnapping. And the images can end up on paedophilia sites. Add to the mix technology like facial recognition, which has yet to extend to its full powers, and the personal information taken from a single photo is potentially unlimited.
Here are the details you may not realise you’re sharing, and the risks associated with them.
Their facial identity
Allowing public access to images of your children can increase the risk of identity theft, cyberbullying and even paedophilia. According to the Australian eSafety Commission, about half of the images found on paedophile image-sharing sites were sourced from social media channels and blogs. These were not indecent photos – most were innocent snaps – but they became disturbing because of the context of who was saving and viewing them.
Another future concern is facial recognition technology. Multinational media giants from Facebook and Google to IBM and Yahoo! are creating databases so users can deploy facial recognition technology across their accounts. The aim is to speed up automated identification, but the side effect is that it enables greater global surveillance and exploitation by these organisations.
What you can do:
- Manage the sharing of full-face images of your child. Publish shots where their face isn’t clear or consider editing the image so their face is obscured. Or you may decide not to share the photo at all.
- Make your wishes about sharing (or not sharing) images of your child’s face known to people who may be photographing your child such as your family and friends, you child’s friends’ parents, schools, clubs and organisations.
- Has a photo already been published? Ask the poster to remove it or at least hide your child’s face. Make sure the image is not tagged with your child’s name.
While it’s difficult for strangers to do much with just a name, revealing your child’s name can increase some risks; think identity theft as well as stalking, which could lead to unsavoury behaviour such as grooming. Public birth announcements with the child’s full name is a big no-no.
What you can do:
- Don’t mention your child’s full name in a public forum.
- Consider using substitute names such as an initial or nickname.
- Inform friends and family who might post about your child not to mention their name and not to tag them.
Birth announcements and milestones like birthday parties can tell strangers the age of your child and increase the risk of identity theft. Many organisations such as banks use birth dates when authenticating accounts, so the more private you can keep this information, the better.
What you can do:
- Don’t mention your child’s exact birthdate in a public forum.
- Keep details obscure, for example, instead of saying ‘meet our son, who was born on [date]’, try ‘meet our son, who entered our lives last month’.
- If you need to tell close friends and family, share the details in a less public manner, for example by calling or texting, or using a private photo sharing platform.
Strangers can piece together the location of your child in a couple of ways. The first is by the content of photos: are you standing outside your house or your child’s school? Do you visit a neighbourhood playground often? Is there a distinctive view outside your living room window when you snap a picture of your child at play? The second is through metadata, which many people do not know they are sharing. Often, smartphones record the time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken.
Giving a stranger access to location data can increase the risk of stalking and kidnapping.
What you can do:
- Don’t publicly share photos of places that are significant to your child’s everyday life, such as the local playground.
- Be aware of details such as school uniforms, which can tell strangers where your child goes to school. Using an editing tool to blur out school emblems and don’t tag the school.
- Remove the metadata. Some smartphones will allow you to take photos without recording location information, or you can download tools to wipe the data.
- Use a screenshot of the image instead of the original image as screenshots don’t have location metadata. As a bonus, this also makes the image low-resolution so it is harder for strangers to tamper with it.
Put privacy first
Many of these breaches can be avoided with a privacy-first attitude and sharing responsibly. Think about what you’re sharing publicly and the consequences of this information getting into the wrong hands and you’ll realise that your child’s safety and privacy is not worth the ‘likes’.
Talk to people around you – friends, family and other parents as well as your child’s school and other organisations – about your concerns and encourage them to seek consent before taking photos of your child and/or sharing them. Do the same for their children in return.
Once lost, privacy is hard to regain so learn to protect it from the start to decrease some of the risks associated with posting photos online. Having a healthy attitude about consent and image-sharing will also set your child up with a better understanding of the consequences of these platforms once they are old enough to manage their own image.
About Colin Anson, CEO and co-founder of pixevety:
Colin Anson is a digital entrepreneur, and the CEO and co-founder of child image protection and photo storage solution, pixevety https://pixevety.com/
In 2012, Colin saw an opportunity to create a unique business within his area of passion, photography. He witnessed first-hand the potential risks and harm the mismanagement of photos can have on children. And he became an advocate for protecting every parent’s right to determine how their child’s photo is used, and protecting every child’s right to safety and digital privacy. After learning of the minefield of privacy laws and the daily stress for schools in managing and sharing the photos of every single student, Colin decided to do something about it. And pixevety, a privacy-centric photo management platform was born.