A couple of weeks ago Margaret and I became responsible for a new lil life. If you’re family or friends, you may have noticed that Little E hasn’t gotten much play online and there’s some pretty good reasons for it… and it’s not because he’s not adorable. While the last two weeks have been mostly filled with our obsession over Little E’s eating, sleeping, and pooping we’ve also been having a conversation about just how much of E’s life we put online. It’s mostly because we (um, maybe mostly Kevin) are afraid of selling his digital soul down the river. Let me explain.
I’m afraid of the consequences of putting
too much any information out there about our lil nugget. Why? Well, because once you post anything online it’s going to be there forever. The United States doesn’t have anything equivalent to the right to be forgotten, and even if we did, I have zero faith in the Facebook, Google, etc. corporations to truly protect and destroy any personal information once they’ve gotten their hands on it. The Internet is a data gobbling, hoarding monstrosity – for better and sometimes for worse.
So, what’s the risk?
There’s a lot of fearmongering when it comes to kids and privacy. It’s hard to filter through the noise to figure out the real risks. Here are the ones that rang the most true to me:
Place of birth. Birth date. Full name. Mother’s maiden name. How many different ways are these simple facts used to validate your identity? By publishing these details online, we make it a notch easier for someone to steal E’s identity.
Key takeaway: Don’t publish facts that personally identify your child, and prevent others from doing so as well.
Kidnapping, Digital or Otherwise
I had never heard of “digital kidnapping” before this week. Digital/Virtual kidnapping is the act of taking someone else’s kids pictures and claiming them as your own. There are other more dastardly things such as child/baby “roleplay” Instagram accounts. There are some real sick bastards out there. Frankly, I think it’s a stupid thing to live in fear of… but still simple enough to do a few things to avoid it happening to your kid.
There is, of course, the plain-old-fashioned type of kidnapping & sexual predators to be concerned with which is a good enough reason in and of itself never to publish pictures of your kids. Data automatically embedded in your photos like location (GPS coordinates), not to mention date and time, can be a great aid to someone trying to figure out your daily patterns making it easier to predict where you are and when your kid might be alone. Just like avoiding putting your kid’s name on the outside of their backpack is a good idea, so is not tagging pictures with the kid’s name and location.
Key takeaways: (1) don’t publish pictures of your child publicly and tightly limit the circle of people who see your posts and pictures, (2) don’t post pictures frequently enough to establish a profile of your daily patterns, (3) strip out the meta data and never tag/name your kid in photos.
A Digital History He Didn’t Make & Doesn’t Want
There are two elements to this risk – one is more personal than the other, but both have consequence to our child later in life.
There’s going to be a day when my kid will review everything that I, Margaret, our parents, our siblings, our grandparents… everyone who knew him… have posted about him online. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to reach age 13 and realize that your entire life has been documented in detail, and published online for 1,000+ people to see. That’s not a hypothetical situation for our little nugget – that’s a potential reality.
We can’t assume our kid will be an extrovert. We can’t assume he’ll want a Facebook or other social media account. We can’t assume he’ll be thrilled that we shared any part of his life and pictures with our extended network of friends and acquaintances.
What we post today amounts to “creating a child’s permanent digital identity when that child should rightfully get to determine it himself or herself.” I want our child to be comfortable with how we’ve protected his privacy up until the age when he can be responsible enough to do it for himself.
Privacy isn’t just about bare-bottom bath time pictures and other stories of his early life that he could find embarrassing or harmful to how he wants to be perceived by the world at large. Facebook, Google, and others are making a profit out of learning as much about you and I as possible so that they can market to us. I can only imagine the targeted Facebook ads of the future… “We know you loved Lego’s at age 5, have you seen the most recent Lego movie!?”
These companies are technological juggernauts and will continue to find ways to learn as much about us as possible. For example, Facebook can now identify people in pictures without their faces – they can tell who you are from the back of your head.
For myself, I’ve chosen to participate in those companies’ products because I’m comfortable with the personal risks. But I don’t want to make that decision for my child.
Key takeaways: (1) don’t publish personal or potentially embarrassing photos or stories about your kids and (2) don’t tag your kid in photos, don’t use their name online in any personally identifiable way, and if you’re really concerned, don’t post photos to social media at all because facial/body/context recognition software will eventually find them.
Nothing, Nada, Zilch.
So, what do you do? My stance before E was born was this: we will post absolutely nothing about E, especially no pictures. It’s the simplest, safest approach and has the benefit of being black/white. It’s easy to understand. It’s easy to communicate to friends and family. And it was largely born out of the (somewhat extreme) logic detailed in Amy Webb’s Slate.com article: “We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online”.
But it’s not easy to do, as we discovered as my first Father’s Day approached. Margaret wanted to post a very sweet post about her partner and include a picture of E. We talked, weighed the pro’s and con’s and decided to go for it…
The Grey Area
So, here we are. Our lil nugget’s existence is online. So, what are the rules for how we maintain his safety and privacy?
Rule #1: He Shall Not be Named
His name is “E”, “Little E”, “Nugget”. His first name won’t be put online anywhere – not on Facebook, Instagram. The only exception to this may be in personal (and private) albums hosted on photo sharing sites. Obviously, other identifiable information such as birth date, schools, etc. will also stay offline.
Rule #2: We are the Deciders
Margaret and I decide what does or does not go online for our kid. Our request is that friends/family don’t post pictures of our kid. If you have a picture you’re really excited about sharing, just ask us first but the default will probably be “no”. We may post a few pictures to Insta and Facebook, but probably not many and not frequently.
We don’t care if you want to talk about him online – we care more about pictures. We’re not trying to hide his existence or anything like that. Most of what anyone will say about him at this point is how cute he is… and there’s certainly not any harm in that! But as he gets older, we’re likely to start limiting more of what goes online about him to protect his privacy.
Rule #3: No Re-Sharing
Margaret and I have explicitly limited and locked down our social media profiles to prevent anyone we don’t know from seeing our posts and our pictures. This also means that we don’t want the things we do sent out not to be shared further. If you see pictures or posts about our kid, it’s because we meant them for you. We ask that our family and friends don’t violate our trust by sharing these pictures with others that we have chosen not to share with.
Honestly, I don’t think so. But you might. Obviously there’s a lot of people in the world that share a lot online about themselves and their kids, and that’s their choice. For now, this is ours. We’re interested in your feedback and thoughts on our approach, as I’m certain it’s going to change over time.