The dangers of posting children’s pictures on social media and the online trail that you could be unwittingly creating to lead predators to your kids.
From the moment our children are born, they are documented—from their name, date and time of birth, to their height, weight and location. Most of these details are essential for their identity as they move through life: enrolling in school, obtaining a passport, starting a bank account, buying a house.
Until quite recently, these details were kept private, rarely accessed by people outside parents and official organisations. Today, they’re often publicly shared when proud parents post photos of their children online indiscriminately.
“We are pleased to announce the arrival of baby John Alan Smith on September 26, 2019 at 4.02am. Mum is doing fine and is hoping to leave Westmead Children’s Hospital tomorrow.”
In two sentences, the full name, date of birth and place of birth of this child is readily available online. A new baby is always exciting news, but the future cost of sharing these identifying details—details that your child can’t change—is a loss of privacy. And once lost, privacy is incredibly hard to regain.
Problems that arise from parents sharing photos and details of their kids online
Images and identifying details can be used for numerous activities that put your child at risk. They include:
- identity theft
And with emerging technology such as facial recognition, the personal information taken from a single photo is potentially unlimited.
As a parent, you have the right to choose who sees your child’s personal information—including their image—online. You also have a responsibility not to post photos or any of their personal details.
Most importantly, it’s recommended that you never tag a child’s image with any personal information.
Don’t share these six details about your child
Let’s take a look at what strangers can learn about your children when you share images online, and what you can do to limit their access.
Everything from a birth announcement to mentioning them in a post—or having well-meaning family and friends mention them—will reveal your child’s name. A name on its own doesn’t pose a great risk, but it can be used for stalking and grooming behaviour and contribute to identity theft.
Don’t share full names and definitely avoid revealing their middle name on social media. If you’re posting about your children, consider using de-identifying details like “my two-year-old”, “Miss 2”, their initial or a nickname.
2. Date of birth
Again, birth announcements are a great source of privacy breaches and future identity theft, as are parental posts or photos about their birthday, such as, “Exactly five years ago today, my son came into the world.”
Don’t feel bad about being vague. You can obscure the exact date by using relative terms like “Earlier this month we welcomed our bundle of joy!”
Also consider sharing these details in a less public manner, for example, by calling or texting relatives instead of posting on the likes of Facebook and Instagram.
Location can be revealed in different ways. When you share photos, details such as landmarks in your neighbourhood can tell strangers the suburb you live in, which increases stalking and kidnapping risks. Additionally, posted pictures, especially those taken on smartphones, often contain metadata that records the time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken. Even though you cannot see this information on the photo, it is possible for people to access it by downloading the image.
Share photos where the location is less recognisable. If possible, scrub the metadata. You can download tools that help you wipe the data or you can develop a habit of taking a screenshot of the image and sharing the screenshot instead, as it won’t contain the metadata. This also makes the image low-resolution, reducing the ability of someone tampering with it.
Do not tag the location of the photograph if it is significant to your everyday life, such as the local playground.
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- Keeping your children safe online
It’s a proud moment for many parents to send their child off to school for the first day and it’s at this point when the obligatory shot of the young student in school uniform makes it onto social media.
The problem is that outsiders now know where your child goes to school, which makes stalking and kidnapping easier.
Avoid sharing photos of your child in uniform or on school grounds that are recognisable. It’s also a good idea to restrict sharing such information only with people you know, not to all of your Facebook friends.
You may also choose to edit the photo by blurring out details like the school emblem. Do not tag the location of the school.
If you upload photos on social media of school events, be aware of who is in the background. Others may not want to be seen on social media.
5. Hobbies and interests
We love it when our kids get involved in different activities such as weekend sports, and we’ll happily take photos of them kicking a goal. Unfortunately, it may also make them a stalking or grooming target, as it gives strangers a way to approach them.
Avoid sharing images of your child and their activities publicly. You should also talk to other organisations that might photograph your child and inadvertently share this information—such as school or sports clubs looking to include your child on their websites or social media channels. Start a conversation with these groups to ensure they understand any concerns you may have so they seek consent.
6. Their appearance
According to the Australian eSafety Commissioner, half of all images on paedophile image-sharing sites originate from social media sites and blogs. Even the most innocent snaps—yes, even baby photos—can be transformed into something sinister in the wrong hands.
Furthermore, emerging technology such as facial recognition also has unknown future implications. Facebook and other global media companies like Google, IBM, Yahoo and YouTube create global face template pools allowing the same facial recognition technology to be used across all accounts. While this makes automated identification fast and easy, it also enables greater global surveillance and exploitation by organisations building global face databases for commercial purposes.
Be careful about which images you share. Avoid full-face shots and consider whether certain attire (for example, swimwear) or poses are appropriate. Consider editing the photo by blurring faces or use the screenshot trick to make the image low-resolution. Talk to people who may be interested in photographing your child, for example, your family and friends, their friends’ parents, schools, clubs and organisations, and make your wishes known.
Stop posting pictures of children without consent
The most effective way to avoid inadvertently sharing your child’s details online is to think of privacy first. Encourage family and friends, as well as the schools and organisations your children are involved with, to do the same.
Practise consent, such as checking with other parents before posting and sharing images of their children—you might be fine with your child’s photo being posted, but the parents of their friend who is next to them in the photo might not be.
Create a circle of trust, people who understand and agree with your photo-sharing preferences. Only share images of your children within that circle. No social media channel is completely watertight, but you can prevent unwitting leaks by checking your social media permissions and privacy settings, and reminding others within the circle to do so too.
Image sharing has risks we already recognise as well as future implications that have not yet come to fruition. Knowing what a stranger can learn about your child online will help you close off public access to that information and help increase your child’s safety and privacy until they are old enough to make their own decisions about protecting themselves.