Edited 05/02/19 to bring up to date.
I was interviewed this morning on 2UE about this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, where a father found out that a photo he shared on Facebook of his child in the bath got over 3000 likes on Facebook, he was shocked, thinking he was only posting the photo to friends.
Now I don’t know how many friends he has, but I’m guessing it’s nowhere near 3000, it’s likely he posted the photo unaware that he hadn’t set the audience to “friends”, but may have selected the “public” or “friends of friends” setting.
I’ve previously outlined in a post on this blog about sharing photos of your kids online, and the risks associated, and not just the risks you would normally think of. Yes, sharing location data, full names and other personal details are concerning if someone decided to stalk your child, but it’s also possible that your child’s photo could end up with mean comments posted underneath it, or it could be shared on to other people you hadn’t intended to see it.
The SMH article also talks about children’s rights to their own images, which I agree with. It is only really ok to ask the consent of your child for sharing their photo, when the child is mature enough to give it, understanding all the ramifications down the track. And can a child really give consent when they are being asked by a parent who has a natural influence over that child?
When children are older if they ask to have all their old photos taken down from social networks for whatever reason, privacy, a top security job, they are at risk, they are embarrassed…a parent may have a very difficult time complying with that request, especially if they have shared those photos publicly, if there are hundreds of photos to remove. Parents need to think very carefully about how many photos they upload to the internet and which ones they choose to share. Teenagers can be very sensitive about photos of themselves, especially ones that were taken and posted when they were “cute” and babyish.
Whilst some might say this all sounds like “Fear Mongering” its no more “Fear Mongering” than any other safety warning, seat belts, life preservers, helmets, looking both ways. All things to help us stay safe and be prepared. Hopefully, you will never have to rely on them, but it’s smart to use them. Digital is new to a lot of folks and that’s why we haven’t yet got into the swing of setting up security and safety nets.
What Does Public Really Mean?
There is still a lot of misunderstanding of what posting publicly really means. It means posting an update or photo to anyone online really. Because there are no absolutely secure ways to ensure that any photo you post to another person or post to an online social network or even send via SMS will not be shared with others or to the public in the wider sense of the word. Any photo can be copied and then passed on, or uploaded to another website and used for advertising for accompanying blog posts or used to embarrass or harass.
What About Privacy Settings?
Privacy settings vary greatly from application to application. Some are really basic and others incredibly complex. Many users are still quite uneducated about online privacy settings, and as a result, those social media users can be publishing photos that anyone who happens to come across their profile can see. On Facebook even if you set your post to “Friends” any of your friends can still download your photo, or even tag it with another person’s name who is not in your friends’ list unless you also have tagging disabled. Privacy settings certainly limit the ease with which a total stranger can see your content, but they are not fail-safe. At the very least make sure your private information and privacy settings are set up properly. My Cyber Safety Manuals have an extensive step by step to set the most private settings on Facebook with tips for creating lists, and more private posts.
Why Bother With Privacy? Isn’t It A Waste Of Time?
There’s the other side of this story also. There are many parents who share everything publicly thinking that there is no danger that their photos or posts would be used incorrectly, they have decided that the risk is very low. The risk might be low, but there is still a risk. There have been a few high profile publicized cases recently where parents have found out that their child’s photos had been downloaded or copied by someone and were then uploaded to other websites and used in ways that were not intended. Role-playing with photos of babies is a “Thing” on Instagram, and there’s even a movement to try and stop it. Put #babyrp (baby role play) in the Instagram search engine. Also see Here: and Here
In order for your photos to stay safe online, you also need to make sure that you never get targeted by someone who wants to hurt you. I’ve been asked to help several families who have been traumatised because someone decided to use social media to attack them or a family member, using their photos to create fake accounts, or disfiguring their photos that are then used to humiliate and harass, they simply just crossed paths with the wrong person. Reversing the damage in some cases is impossible.
Don’t Make It Hard To Protect The Ones You Love
If any drama happens to your family, a death, a court case, a neighborhood dispute, the first place people go to pry, including the press, is Facebook and Instagram. Some journalists have been known to infiltrate Facebook friends to get to another family via a friend who simply accepted their friend request. With more relaxed settings they may be able to find pictures of the person they are looking for on the “Freinds” profile. When you see on a news story a photo accredited as from Facebook or Instagram or even “Supplied” it’s usually been taken from social media by some method, usually because it was posted publically or through an unwitting friend, taken often without permission, they don’t have to ask.
You never know when you will want privacy, from an online scammer, a troll, a harasser, a bad breakup, a friendship gone wrong or an online bully.
In the age of Deep Fakes, facial recognition and data mining it is hard to know what our personal information, our image, and our families data will be used for. There already is technology smart enough to scan a young child’s face and match it with a photo of it as an adult, used to find missing children. So if down the track someone wants a photo of your child when they are an adult they may be able to find one through facial recognition, which is enabled on Facebook and Google unless you have deliberately disabled it in privacy settings.
To test this, upload a photo of yourself to Google Reverse Image Search and see if it matches with other photos of yourself. It may even locate your Facebook profile unless you have disabled your profile from search…another privacy setting to set to off.
Police report that when they find pedophile ring photos of children they include photos of dressed children, children in nappies, having a bath or a swim, just being children. And more horrifying, they report photos that have been photoshopped to put innocent children in sexual positions. There are so many photos in these collections that were simply stolen through social media or even shared by children themselves who are on social media apps when underage who were tricked into sending them.
Through facial recognition, and other identifiers on the social media accounts, mum and dads name, where they live, where the child goes to school, some of these photos will identify who the victim is.
How To Share Photos Safely?
- Keep your friends list small and real
- Always set your posts to “friends-except Acquaintances” and not public (To set a friend to an acquaintance status, go to your friends list, and select what sort of friend or list they should be added to, hover the cursor over “Friend” tab and select from dropdown list) More of these settings in my manual
- Don’t use any identifiers on the posts, names, school uniforms or school colors or names. Hide locations
- Make sure you set your privacy settings to approve all tagging on your posts. Friends can still download and copy all your photos to share if they want to, but it’s at least another preventative measure. (See picture at the bottom of this post for settings.)
- Create a secret group or restricted list on the social media platform you use, and set some rules about not sharing.
- Use one of the many private family photo sharing websites that are out there.
- Use a dropbox or Apple iCloud type sharing cloud-based system with a good reputation.
- Use email
- Delete your photos regularly
Remember that as soon as another person comments on your photo, it could change how other people perceive your photo. A comment can make the difference between a photo being innocuous and innocent to a photo that becomes shared because of what is said about it. You cannot control what other people do to your photos and posts.
See my Cyber Safety Manuals for more settings to keep you and your family safer on social media.