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Posting a Child’s Photo Online – Is it Safe?

By Leonie Smith - 29th May 2013

This post is in response to a recent story about a Melbourne mother’s frustration at not being able to remove her 18-month-old's image from Instagram after she found out it was being misused. Comments on this story include: "why did she post the pictures with a public account" and "why didn't she set her photos to private". And …

"Why do all the ‘Tech Heads’ tell the rest of us, to protect our online accounts, and to use privacy settings and to keep our photos of our family offline?” and “What a bunch of scaremongers!"  

When I give cyber safety talks, I make a point of asking the audience to consider not posting pictures of their kids online. I get a lot of shocked stares. I suspect that some of the attendees have uploaded so many pictures of their kids on Facebook and Instagram that they couldn't imagine taking them down at any time. A few in the audience nod, agreeing with me. Some look back at me in alarm, concerned that anyone would put pictures of themselves online...these are usually the ones that are too afraid to use a social media platform.

Why be Concerned about Children’s Photos Online?

Most of us take steps to protect our physical property and family – we take different precautions depending on where we live and what we own. How did we know to lock our car doors or install home security? Other neighbours might have alerted us to their experiences, we may have done our research to find out how safe our new neighbourhood was, or we may have read about a spate of robberies in our town causing us to double-latch the door. In contrast, the internet is a relatively new and unexplored neighbourhood.

Right now, an extraordinary amount of new residents have moved into to ‘internet town’, and most of them don’t know how to work out the safe place to walk. Older internet residents (the tech heads) try to help new residents, but the new residents think that older residents are being alarmist and silly, and besides, it's really fun to discover and explore these new streets.

Unfortunately the older residents are starting to give up trying to keep the new residents safe – they proclaim them idiots for leaving their doors open in dangerous towns (see the comments on that post above), for showing off their riches to increasing numbers of bad people who are swarming into town because they know that the new residents are leaving their doors open. The older residents know that the only thing that will help the new residents start taking basic steps to protect their property will be when they or their family gets hurt.

The tragic thing about this comparison, is that physical property can be replaced, but the sort of hurt that can be done on the internet to our children can result in physical harm to them and emotional scarring.

Will You Secure Your ‘Online Home’ and Protect Your Family?

We post pictures of our dinners, our homes, our cars, our kids, our pets and our holidays all over the internet with no regard to privacy settings or who might see them – I sometimes think we are a bunch of self-indulgent show-offs. In the past, our need to brag a little, might have been served by displaying our kids’ trophies in our lounge rooms, showing slides after dinner of our family holidays, and showing business associates a picture of the family tucked in our wallet. The internet has changed all that – we are now showing off all of the above and more to total strangers all over the globe  and bringing them virtually into our homes – we are giving them access to our trophies and our wallet family snaps and holiday slides to claim as their own, and use them as they wish. We are also showing them the layout of our homes, where they are located, alerting them when to when we are away, out to dinner, and so much more.

New users of the internet need to listen to the older residents...not all ‘The Tech Heads’ are balanced and kind, but when you consistently hear them say: protect your accounts, set them to private, keep your family photos off the internet, you need to pay attention.

Would It Happen To Our Family?

You might feel that nothing you post online will be ever be used against you, but the more personal data you put up there, the more likely it will be. Today your baby is 18 months old but by the time your child is 10 years old and another kid decides to pick on your child, there may be hundreds of photos of your child posted publicly that the other kid can obtain to humiliate or bully your child.

Is posting our children’s photos worth the risk?

There is no such thing as true privacy on Facebook's Timeline. Instagram and other photo apps also have features that share your photos to a wider audience.  If you want to share photos, consider sending them via email, or post. Why not create a family Dropbox or Google Drive, or set up a private Facebook group? Avoid using a social media account with a dubious reputation for privacy or one that has a bad reputation for removing sensitive photos when asked to.

Bottom Line - Your Child’s Photos Online

If you upload personal photos of your children online without securing your privacy, in my opinion, it's not just a matter of if your child's photo will be misused in the future without your permission, it's a matter of when: and it will most likely be done by someone you or child knows.

Image from freedigitalphotos.net

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