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Are you aware of your digital kidnapping?

Digital Fingerprint

Kids – we love them, don’t we? I have three of them myself and when I look at the amount of photos that we have taken of them, compared to the amount of photos that my parents took of me and my brothers, it really changed my perception of the extent to which we use new technology, often without thought. Not that I have counted, but I would guess that we took more photos of our eldest son in the first six months of his life than my parents took of me in my entire life!

Sure, the technology has moved on. No more taking film to your favourite photo shop, waiting excitedly for the latest reel to be exposed, only to be disappointed that not everyone had their eyes open in the family photo! Digital photos and video have improved immeasurably over the last 10 years and I think that is a positive benefit to everyone. After all, memories are important.

The problem, however, comes through the fusion of social media and digital photos. In the early days of Facebook, for example, we all used to enjoy the text driven updates ensuring we all knew what we were having for tea, what we did at the weekend and other important facts… However, with mobile technology maturing and picture quality improving on phones, and a proliferation of social content sharing services, we have seen an explosion of photo and video content and a lot of that content is featuring our children.

So what’s the problem, a few friendly photos of our kids can’t cause any harm, can they? A recent study by Nominet[1] highlighted that on average 973 photos are posted online by a child’s fifth birthday, equating to an average of 195 photos shared by parents every year. The same study revealed that 17% of parents have never checked their Facebook privacy settings and almost half (46%) have only checked once or twice, despite this social network still being the most common platform for photo sharing.

The issue then comes in what then happens to those photos. I am sure more people have not read the hundreds of pages of Facebook’s T&C’s, but the summary is that they can do what they want with your photos. Not only can Facebook do what they want with your photos, but all those friends you are friends with obviously see the photos. If your friends ‘Like’ the photo (as many people do), then all their friends will see your photo as well. Before you know it, your 200 photos a year of little Billy could be seen by 5000 people (assuming you have 100 friends and 50% of them ‘Like’ your photo). And that’s assuming you have locked down your profile! If you haven’t, there are Google (and other search engine) robots searching 24×7 for new content and with an open profile, your new photos will be indexed, stored (outside of Facebook) and then they are completely in the public domain of the Internet forever.

Now imagine that little Billy grows up, graduates from university and decides to get a job. In 10-15 years’ time it won’t be as simple as presenting your CV to a potential employer. By this time, your thousands of photos could be presented to the potential employer in a dossier along with your CV! Little Billy’s “Digital public profile”.

The real problem here is that all this has been done without your child’s permission. The University of Michigan has been doing some research in this space[2]. In interviewing the children, they found that “child participants reported that they find this content embarrassing and feel frustrated that parents publicly contribute to their online presence without permission.” So in essence, we are kidnapping our children’s digital identity and placing it online without fully understanding the context, and its future implications.

So next time you upload those photos of the kids, just have a think about a few things. Ensure your profile is locked down so that it is not accessible to the public. Think about whether you are really happy in sharing the photos with all your ‘friends’ and finally (and most importantly) consider whether your children will be happy with you creating a digital fingerprint on their behalf. They have not chosen for their photos to be online; they have not chosen for Google to be indexing their content; but they have a life to live in this Digital world and they should choose how they want to live it, digitally and physically.


[1] Nominet Study http://www.nominet.uk/todays-children-will-feature-in-almost-1000-online-photos-by-the-time-they-reach-age-five/
[2] Michigan University Study http://yardi.people.si.umich.edu/pubs/Schoenebeck_FamilyTechRules16.pdf

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