A geotagged birthday photo gives away everything scammers need to know about your child. GETTY
Recently, I’d posted a blog featuring a small, multigenerational Haystack event—a potluck for some of the children to get to know one another. As I didn’t post first and last names, I assumed I’d protected the parents and children’s anonymity. But you’ll no longer find that post—it was deleted after a parent educated me on the issues surrounding the protection of children’s online presence.
As we gather for events before and after move in, there will be many temptations to post photos of our group having a good time, kids and all. But not so fast! The same member who contacted me is in the midst of drafting a policy for our group, but what follows is the missive he sent to me asking to delete the blog post. For many of us like myself with “kids” in their 20’s and 30’s, this is something we never had to wrestle with. Welcome a the Brave New Post Privacy World.
My wife and I have had the family policy of not posting photos of our son online since he was born, not even for family, so my request isn't particular to Haystack. For us, the lack of a name doesn't matter for at least three reasons. For one, face-recognition technology is so good these days that it just takes a couple photos of the same person for sites like Google of Facebook to identify people. Second, lack of a name doesn't keep any random person from copying the photo. (To demonstrate, I snipped the photo from our site and pasted it in another photo for you). Any person in the world can snap up that photo for their own uses with two clicks of a mouse. And third, the fact that no name is listed doesn't keep someone from learning who lives in Haystack in other ways and quickly figuring out who's in the photo. There is so much of our info online these days, even for those who are careful. All in all, the lack of a name isn't much of a barrier.
As for why we care, there's a whole slew of reasons we have decided to minimize our son’s digital footprint. There is a non-zero chance that others could use his image without our permission, either for innocent but also more nefarious purposes, like identify fraud. But it's also about us thinking about his future and empowering him to have control over his own online presence. He's not old enough to consent, so we're erring on the side of privacy until he can decide for himself. There are a bunch of articles that articulate the reasons why parents might follow this course, like here and here.
Who knew? Not me. I read the suggested articles, rather wide-eyed about the facts: in late 2018, the UK Children’s Commissioner released a report called “Who Knows About Me?” illuminating the ways in which we collect and share children’s data and how that might put them at risk in the future. The report estimates that by the age of 13, parents have posted roughly 1300 photos and videos of their children online (and that might be a conservative estimate). “This dual role of parent and publisher raises a host of questions about privacy, consent, and the parent-child relationship more broadly,” says another excellent article in The Atlantic in 2016 entitled, “The Perils of Sharenting.” That article begins, “Babies, like cats, are everywhere on the web.” (Likely there are as many funny videos and photos of babies as there are of cats.)
Other arenas in our society that interface with children are also beginning to wrestle with this complicated issue of digital privacy—school team photos? Yearbooks? A journalist covering some incident at a school?
Back to the situation for us in cohousing: although we will eventually have a community policy on this issue, be sure that if you happen to snap a photo during one of our gregarious gatherings that includes children, please ask that child’s parent for permission if you plan to post it on social media.