We all love sharing photos of our kids online, but aren’t we ignoring their right to privacy? Here’s how parents can strike a balance.

Proud parents beam over their newborn announcing the baby’s name, date of birth and weight. Friends and relatives gush over the new addition in comments and emojis. It’s a Facebook post that hardly seems original in this day and age – and is possibly the first step towards building this child’s digital footprint.

It’s near impossible for a modern family to avoid having photos of their children online. Even if you’re personally not much of a sharer, others, like proud grandparents, might be. And many schools today share photos online to communicate with parents or promote the school’s programs and student achievements.

Although children today are ‘born digital’, it’s worth considering that in many ways exposure in the online world presents more of a risk than in the physical one. As parents, you’re responsible for protecting them until they are old enough to make their own decisions about their online presence.

Why having photos of your children online is a risk

According to research conducted by cybersecurity company McAfee, 30% of Australian parents use social media to post a photo or video of their child at least once a week, with 12% posting at least once a day. This was despite 71% understanding that the image might end up in the wrong hands.

A 2017 University of Florida study found that “when children appear in Facebook photos, 45.2% of the posts also mention the child’s first name, and 6.2% reference the child’s date of birth”. On Instagram, it was worse: 63% of parents referenced their child’s first name in at least one photo in their stream and 27% of parents mentioned their child’s date of birth. Almost one in five shared both pieces of information!

But what’s the big deal if we share photos from little Jamie’s birthday party? The reality is that having images and identifying details can be used for a number of activities that put your child at risk, from paedophilia and stalking, to cyberbullying, identity theft and even kidnapping.

And that’s just the start. A bigger issue is that once the images are published, you can quickly lose control over who has access to them

Practising privacy

Abstaining from posting photos is the most privacy you can give your children, but we recognise that it is not the most realistic. So what can you do to ensure better privacy practices?

Attain consent

Check 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.

Select the shots

Develop criteria of what you deem ‘appropriate’ and carefully select the shots to share. For example, you may wish to avoid full-frontal face shots, swimwear, and nudity.

Exclude details

Make sure the images do not contain personal details of your child, including their name (if they are wearing a nametag, blur it out), location (no photos outside a recognisable home or school) and identifiable uniform. Do not share their date of birth. It’s tempting to announce the arrival of a newborn, but hold off and then post a less precise caption: “We welcome the latest member of our family born a few days ago…”

Scrub the metadata

Digital photos, especially those created on smartphones, often contain metadata that records the time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken. Be mindful that you may be unwittingly sharing this data when you share the photo. 

There are different tools you can use to wipe the data, or you can develop a habit of creating a screenshot of the image and share the screenshot instead. This also makes the image low-resolution, reducing the risk of someone tampering with it.

Create a circle of trust

Only share images of your children with people you know and trust – don’t forget check your social media permissions and privacy settings. You should also communicate your concerns to people in this circle to ensure they understand the risks and are less likely to expose the images to outsiders.

Be in control

Every parent has the right to determine how their child’s photo is used, and every child has the right to safety and digital privacy. So, make sure your school obtains specific consent for the ways your child’s photo will be shared. If you’re happy for your child’s photo to be in the yearbook but not on their social media channels or website, then they are required to comply with those boundaries. Remember to S.N.A.P.: Check if your School Now Asks Parents before sharing.

Privacy, once lost, is incredibly hard to regain. If you have a privacy-first mentality when dealing with your children’s digital footprint, it can reduce a lot of the risks associated with sharing their image and set them up for a healthier relationship with technology when they are old enough to protect themselves.

By Tammy Anson, a mum and Communications Officer at child image protection and photo storage solution, pixevety.