With the rise of social media and social sharing, it's extremely popular to share pictures of kids with family, friends, and even strangers. But is that safe? What can you do to protect your kids while still connecting with those you love?
What Are the Risks?
When most people think about posting photos of their kids online, they are generally concerned that a pedophile or stalker is going to hunt down their kids.
While this is certainly a possibility, it just isn’t likely that someone will see your children and become so enamored with them that they will hunt down your address and cross the country to find them. Crime statistics continue to show that kids are most at risk from those they know and trust in their daily lives. And while there are still abductions by strangers, they rarely occur outside of the general vicinity of the perpetrator's homes.
The more realistic concern for parents is that the photos are available for other people to see and, in most cases, download. Pedophiles do download photos and store them, so if this makes you feel uncomfortable, just don't put the pictures out there. In addition, there is the chance that other people will “borrow” photos to claim as their own or to use in other forms of media.
One family discovered that their annual holiday photo was being used as a storefront ad in the Czech Republic (see CBS story).
In another story, a teenage girl discovered that her photo was being used as an advertisement for Virgin Mobile, halfway around the world (see CBS New article). While this is not something that is a rampant problem, it should be something parents take into account.
The bottom line is that your kids are unlikely to be harmed physically by you posting their photo online.
But if you're not comfortable with people you don't know seeing it, keep it offline.
How to Protect Your Family Photos
- If you're concerned, keep them private – share only with family and friends.
- Add a digital watermark when you do post things online.
- Read the Terms of Service before posting – by posting photos on other websites, you may be granting permission for that website or its users to use your photos online and in print. This is especially true for contest and "talent search" websites.
Protecting Your Kids When Sharing Photos Online
In addition to protecting your photos, protect your children’s privacy as well:
- Never post pictures of children naked or in revealing clothing, publicly or among friends. In addition to exposing your kids to future embarrassment, you open yourself up to prosecution for child pornography charges.
- Avoid posting pictures that will embarrass your children. You may think it's cute; they won't. Imagine if someone posted embarrassing pictures of you without your permission.
- Never share information about your kids that they wouldn’t share themselves – everything you post becomes public record.
- Avoid giving out their full names, schools, names of friends, or other information that gives away their location.Keep this in mind when posting pictures, as well.
- Adjust your Facebook or other social media settings to protect your photos.
- Never post pictures of other people's children publicly without their permission.
- Ask family members and friends to follow the same precautions when they discuss your family online.