Thoughts on Internet Privacy

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Dakshana Bascaramurty for a piece in The Globe and Mail about sharing photos online. The article, Photo filchers fuel Facebook fears, was published just over a week ago. I have also been quoted in The Vancouver Sun on a similar issue in How to stop creeps from looking at photos of your kids on Flickr. I am the poster child for posting children’s photos, yo.

Jacob nursing
My infamous breastfeeding photo

The Globe article tells a cautionary tale about putting your photos, and especially your children’s photos, online. People can steal them. And anyone can see them. Even! Weirdos! Toronto Police Detective Paul Krawczyk, who works in the child exploitation section of the sex crimes unit says that the risk is small, but is quoted as also saying:

We see these images on the hard drives of people [we arrest]: kids playing soccer, kids at the park, digital photos from school. On a daily basis, I see people who are into child pornography posting these types of images on websites … As long as you’re comfortable going to downtown Toronto and … leaving 1,000 copies of the picture there, that’s cool.

Hannah and her wooden flute on Christmas morning
Another extremely exciting family photo from Christmas, 2006

Here’s my take, and what I told Dakshana – anyone can see your photos, and so you have to make sure to only post photos that you’re comfortable with anyone seeing. If I post photos online I don’t use privacy controls because I want my grandma to be able to see the photos of her great grandchildren. Instead, I keep in mind that these are public images and I choose them accordingly. My husband and I agree, and we consider this a parenting decision that we have made together.

I don’t make that decision for other people. I am not going to post your child’s image or name online without your permission. That is your parenting decision to make, and I understand that other people have different comfort levels. That’s cool, and totally understandable. Just as we may make different decisions about schooling or discipline, we can make different decisions about sharing our children’s photos.

Wobbly, wide-legged gait
Some of my son Jacob’s first steps, posted online

Being clear that I am not coming from a place of judgment, I want to share why I am comfortable posting my kids’ images and names. I started posting the photos to share with my friends and family, who want to keep up to date. That is what I’m getting out of it – connection. And as for the risk, I believe it’s tiny. The New York Times interviewed some experts who agree with me. Here is an excerpt:

“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just “techno-panic.”

The actual risk of stranger abduction is virtually nil. In 2006, in the US, the odds of a child under 18 being abducted by a stranger were approximately 1 in 12,000. That is 0.0083%. Obviously, every case is a tragedy and we should work to stop it. But I think it’s important to keep the actual danger level in perspective. Our children face far more danger from automobile traffic than they do from strangers, in the real world or online.

The 4 of us
Our whole family, Christmas 2008, for all to see

While I don’t think Flickr, Facebook and my blog are dangerous, I do consider my children’s privacy. The internet is a public place. Even if there is no real threat of danger befalling my children, there is a very real possibility of embarrassment or hurt feelings. Every word that you type can be seen by your mother, your boss or your best friend. Or your children in 15 years. So I err on the side of caution when I choose topics, and I ask myself how I would feel if someone wrote something similar about me.

When I publish internet content I limit myself to content and images that I would be OK handing out to 1000 random people in Toronto, so I think I’m cool with Detective Krawczyk. Although I think a more accurate analogy would be if I and 100,000 of my closest friends each printed 1000 copies and left them in an enormous pile. Regardless, my real fear is whether my children will set similar limits, when they’re old enough to have an internet presence that I don’t moderate. That’s where I believe the real danger lies, the occasional creepy story notwithstanding.

What about you? How do you decide what to post and not post online? Have you had any encounters that gave you the willies? Please share!

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  1. I don’t have an issue with posting pictures or using my kid’s names in posts. Like you, I choose what I post. No nudie shots (well, except for a few cute ones in the bath once ;))

    What I don’t like is the issues about ownership and privacy violations you potentially have to deal with, such as people taking photos from Facebook and using them in advertising. That is one reason I deleted everything off and deactivated my Facebook account (of course everything is technically still “there” but I feel better knowing I tried to remove it.)

    My SIL is of the mind that she won’t allow any pictures of her kids posted online and I find that to be a tad silly, especially since her older duaghter now has interent independance to some extent and her pictures are up on her friend’s Facebook accounts. Unless you decide to turn yourself into a hermit who has no access to the outside world, it’s pretty hard to avoid. The secret is to take the precautions you mentioned.
    .-= Carrie´s last post ..Tumble tumble tumble =-.

  2. This is a tough one; I want to share photos of my family and content about my family and myself in a way that is helpful but does not endanger my kids or my husband and me. I ask friends whether I may post photos of their children and for my portfolio I am now including a permissions agreement between the subject and myself.

    What I’ve been thinking about lately for my blog’s purposes is how transparent a blogger should be . . . since I write about depression, and I want to let others know that they are not alone and that there is help and hope, I want to be really honest; sometimes though, I wonder whether such honesty will be hurtful to me at some point in the future.

    But I suppose since blogging is a great way to be a writer, one must be a brave writer and poster. Take chances. What do you thinK?

    • I think that the depression posts you’ve made are so valuable, Jessica. I know that many other people benefit from reading your story, and I think that’s so important. It would be sort of sad if we couldn’t share parts of our stories to help others.

      I honestly don’t worry TOO much about the ramifications of my blog to me. I tend to worry more about others. However, I will admit that when I consider possibly job hunting again in my future, the idea of being so accessible via Google with my life OUT THERE does give me some pause. This is why I try to use my judgment to the best of my ability.

  3. Amber, I think you’ve nailed it. This is pretty much my approach. I think I would be pissed if someone took an image and presented as their own, or in a different context, but the chances are low.
    .-= Tepary´s last post ..Prickly Topics =-.

  4. I fall somewhere inbetween. I want to share photos of my kids, but I’m afraid of who will stumble past them. Which is why I delete any photos on my site after 30 days. I know they’re technically still floating around the internet somewhere, but it makes me feel better. Then I’ve also begun to wonder about what my kids’ friends may find once they’re older and that was part of my reasoning for changing their names to nicknames.
    .-= C @ Kid Things´s last post ..Blogiversary =-.

  5. It’s so hard sometimes.

    I like to post photos to share with friends and family. Granted, some people on my FB should be removed but I haven’t taken that task on yet.

    But we’re in the world where internet is everywhere and our kids will be more involved than we can imagine. Schools use sites as a communication tool for parents. Daycares post pictures. FB and blogging are just other tools people use to communicate and I don’t see any harm in posting pictures. Maybe there will be a time when I limit what I show, but for now, I don’t see any problems.

    I do respect other peoples decisions. But are they offended in viewing other people’s pictures?
    .-= Sara´s last post ..Aahh Lilacs… =-.

  6. When I was pregnant, one of my aunts cautioned me to delete my blog. Her reasoning? Someone would find me and come cut the baby out of my belly. I smiled and nodded, and then went on doing what I do.

    I don’t post our last name, but facebook friends can find it out easily enough. As for appropriateness of photos (as well as posts), I’m always cautious because I’m a teacher. If my students were to read my blog, I’d be totally comfortable. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t want them, or their parents, or my bosses, to see.
    .-= Abbie´s last post ..More Animals! =-.

  7. Summer says:

    I’ve heard the “but everyone can see them!” arguments on posting photos, and I think it’s a bit silly. Pedophiles can also see my kids when I take them to the park, the store, an on walk. Should I never take my kids outside, or only do so with blankets covering their faces? Also, pedophiles have access to cameras as well. I don’t have to post a photo of my son running in the yard, when one can sit across the street somewhere hidden and take the photo themselves.

    I guess my point is that the internet is just another extension of the world around us. If I start to worry about what some creep is going to do at home with a photo of my kid, then I have to worry what some creep will do with the mental image of my kid, or a photo he took himself. Yes, pedophiles need to be stopped, yes we need to do more, but hiding my kids in the closet all day for fear that someone might see their faces is just letting the perverts win.

  8. I’ve also thought about all of this (what blogging mother hasn’t, right?). I started my blog using nicknames and thought I’d try to stay somewhat anonymous and a year plus later sometimes it feels silly. I do the same thing you do, choose the photos I use mindfully. For example, I have some extra amazingly cute photos of my kids in nothing but rainboots and umbrellas, but hello, not putting those online. Like Summer said, pedophiles are everywhere.

    Online media is just an extension of real life now. You use the same common sense and everyone will have their own lines of comfort.

    I personally think we are evolving into a more transparent and authentic society as a result of all this social media. We’ve taken the conversations out of our private living rooms and put them where anyone can see. This makes it wise to be mindful, but isn’t it always?

    Now that my oldest is 5.5 I’ve started including him in some blogging decisions. After I heard about a friend’s 7 year being upset that she shared something I brought that consideration into it. I know many people whose older kids asked to be kept out of it and I plan on including my kids in my considerations of what I blog and post–just like I do with my husband.

    I *never* post other kids photos unless it is completely anonymous (feet/hands or complete back of head thing) without full parental permission.

    Great post!

  9. Funny you should bring this up, because I recently got a disgusting comment from a pedophile (or someone who thought it was cute to act like one) on a post I published with a picture of my son’s backside. (sigh) It shook me up, and I’ve thought about a) taking the picture down or b) clouding out the crack, but really – it’s a baby’s bottom. How many pictures of babies’ bottoms are there available online?! Is my son really in danger because some ass in Pennsylvania (according to the “whois” link associated with his comment) left me a lurid comment?
    I haven’t done anything yet. I will probably leave it up.
    I agree though – I don’t want to write anything that Kieran (or anyone) will be offended or embarrassed by years from now.
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last post ..Disposable Diapers? Those are so last decade . . . =-.

  10. This is something I constantly worry about because I have always been a very private person. My facebook profile picture doesn’t even show my face, only my back. When I started my mommy blog, the goal was to document our every day life so that we could read back on it one day and remember all the things that happened. I want our little guy to read it one day. As I gained followers outside of my friends and family, I started to worry again. I found that I would blog less and I was really reserved about the information I wanted to share. I even stopped tweeting about new posts and would just publish them without anyone’s notice. It’s a bit of a pity because I really wanted to be more open but I was scared. I didn’t want to privatize the blog because I thought some of my posts would help others and so I didn’t want to make it hard for people to get to that info.

    I may sound paranoid but I’m still blogging. Blogging about my life is actually fun. I am very selective with the info and photos I share on my blog. My facebook account has no photos at all and is largely private. I have a flickr account that is totally private as well. I guess I’m just very careful. Some people are shocked that I even have a personal blog. It’s the 21st century – pretty much everyone has one! If someone like me can can engage in social media, anyone can 🙂
    .-= mommyingaround´s last post ..Just the beginning of toddlerhood =-.

  11. I put it all out there and hopefully I won’t get burned. I just feel that this is the way we are headed and trying to fight it is a losing battle. That said, I read your quote in the G&M, and will not post nudie photos (so sad 🙁 or photos or other people’s kids.
    .-= harriet Fancott´s last post ..Geek Speak interview =-.

  12. I worry about what it will be like in a few years when my daughters schoolmates are saavy enough to Google her. I wouldn’t want them to access pictures and information of her that they can use against her. And bullies can twist even the most innocent photos and bits of information to their own uses. That’s my real fear.

  13. Personally, I don’t even understand why people feel the need to post pictures online. It’s easier and more relevant to just email photos specifically to the people you want to see them. Then again, I don’t understand the appeal of blogs (I only read the blogs of people I know in the “real world”…and you’re one of them), Twitter, Facebook, etc…

  14. Wendy Armbruster Bell says:

    I think, like so many other things in life, if you educate yourself and use your common sense, then all will be well.

  15. Ohmygod your kids are so adorable I can’t stand it. Charming!

    And yeah, I tend to think the whole “oh no people can see you” fears can piggyback on so many other fears.

    .-= Havi Brooks (and duck)´s last post ..Dear part of me who thinks that if something good happens, something bad must follow… =-.

  16. I don’t have anything new to add to this. I guess I just like seeing my name in print :). Oh, except I did make sure to ask my sister if it was okay to put pictures of her kids on my blog (she doesn’t do Facebook or anything, she’s had trouble with minor league stalkers in the past and is legitimately wary), and she said, a bit witheringly, ‘go ahead — psychos don’t stalk literary blogs’. Hmph. I guess I shouldn’t be insulted that she thinks I’m not worthy of cyber-stalkers.
    .-= allison´s last post ..******************That about sums it up =-.

  17. Like you, I post pictures. I think of my blog like a newspaper column. If I’m not ok with total strangers reading it, then it doesn’t go up. I’ve started editing stories more as my five year old gets older. Baby cuteness is a sort of universal story, but as he grows up, they become his story more than mine.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Shower Troubles =-.

  18. I have thought about this. My name isn’t on my blog but they are linked other places. There are only two pictures of my kids on my blog, but I have posted some other places.

    I think that you have to do what you are comfortable with. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Learning life lessons =-.

  19. Yeah, I think I’m at the same level you are. I post pics and use my real name. I don’t share the names of my kids on my blog though. Early on it was a privacy thing (didn’t use my name at first either) and now it has gone on so long that I would feel weird to start using their names. Photos of them are okay but their names are not okay? Not sure how I came to that conclusion. Perhaps I secretly don’t want to their uncommon names to get popular, lol. There are a lot of people who share way more than I do, but I don’t think it is that much of a risk. I’d be much more worried about a stranger down the block than one online from across the world.
    .-= AmberDusick´s last post does your garden grow =-.

  20. I try not to post photos of my elder boys, because I know it would make that feel uncomfortable now. Though when I posted a photo of one of them playing tennis, the other asked me why I didn’t post one of him too! In general, I go by your rule, and try to think about what my kids will think of what I’ve published in the future, and I don’t worry at all about my own story. Funny thing, I only ever got one “unwanted” (foul language) comment, and it was about a baby word my daughter had said and that happened to be the name of the “particular” site of the commenter. No photos involved. I do check my flickr stats regularly, and it annoys me to see “unknown” views.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Corner View ~ garden =-.

  21. As you know I post pictures of my kids. I’ve considered the risks and I think they’re small. I pretty much agree with everything you say in this post so for the first time ever I’m not going to write a book.
    .-= Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)´s last post ..California Dreaming: Wednesday of Few Words =-.

  22. I have been very open since the inception of teh internetz. One of our first reasons for getting into web design was to post photos of our wedding for family and friends. But, being cautious of other people’s privacy, we used only first names of other people, and we took other precautions, such as not publishing our home address online. Of course, it is online, regardless, but we thought we’d make it harder for serial killers to track us down after seeing how adorable our wedding photos were. Another option we chose was making our private blog, which includes pictures of friends and family (and my mother in her nightgown on Christmas morning, which she protested but didn’t make me remove), not searchable by search engines.

    Now that I have a kid who’s getting every so slightly older, I do think more about his privacy as well, as I always have with my husband. If either wants me to remove or edit something on my public blog, I would. But I guess I’m just not really all that scared of stalkers or abductors or perverts. Yes, they could be using my pictures for their perversions, but likely they’re not, and there’s not much I can do about it except make sure that what I post is tasteful (to my own levels of taste, of course).
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last post ..On a first miscarriage =-.

  23. Like a lot of posters here, I agree with your common-sense approach Amber. Your thoughts were a nice counterpoint to all the “ZOMG! Don’t do this!” attitude in the rest of the article and the comments.

    My attitude on pictures and content are “if I’m okay with my mom reading this, the world can read this”. I post my pictures publicly so my family can see them quickly. Until recently, my mother was still on dialup so emailling her pictures was a chore for me (resizing), and for her (opening an email, downloading and walking away to get a coffee). My mum and MIL are still fairly new to the Internet (email is a big deal for them), so asking them to get involved in Facebook seems like overkill when I can send them to a photosharing site like Flickr (which is what I used pre-kid).

    I use my common sense when posting pictures of my daughter (no nudie shots, no diaper messes, no gross/embarrassing stuff). That still leaves me tons of pictures to post detailing this part of her life. Once she is older, I will involve her in any photo sharing I do, and respect any wishes she has. The same way I do with my family and friends. (I got in trouble with my husband once after I posted a picture of him sleeping on the couch with the dog – he was fully dressed, but it bothered him. Now I remember to ask him if it’s okay to post a picture of him.)
    .-= melissa´s last post ..I love a good magazine =-.

  24. This is a good topic. I made my parenting blog private because I was weirded out about the strangers visiting from around the world and the level of details I was posting, mostly in effort to make myself a Blurb photo book. Now, I have about 35 subscribers to that blog, people I know.

    Someone also pointed out to me that my photos were appearing on someone else’s blog as an illustration (for using an ice cube tray for meals), so I delisted my photos from search engines. Before I did that, when I searched snack tray in Google, I noticed that photo came up top. That was probably my creepiest blogging experience. I should probably watermark my photos too, but I haven’t bothered.

    On my daily photo blog, I did post a naked backside picture recently, and I’ve been worrying about it, but I keep thinking that it’s harmless and cute, my kid sitting at her drum set in the buff. But would I hand out 1,000 copies in downtown Toronto, I don’t know.
    .-= Cara´s last post ..Back to potty bubbles… =-.

  25. I think pretty much any point I’d want to make has already been made here, but I did want to throw out the fact that according to Google Analytics, someone actually found my blog by googling “breastfeeding porn”! They must’ve been sad when they discovered I’ve never posted a pic of me breastfeeding, but I was still pretty creeped out!
    .-= Maman A Droit´s last post ..Tuesday is Newsday =-.

  26. I only have been blogging a year. I use a version of my real name, my husband’s first name, and a pseudonym for our son, Five. At first, I was too paranoid to post photos of myself (I was worried about identity theft.). I have since posted photos of me and my husband. However, there STILL are no photos of Five on my blog. I was concerned, not about pedophiles, but about Five’s right to privacy. I wanted him to be able to choose whether he wants his photos in public places. As it turns out, Five WANTS me to post photos of him on my blog, so I probably some soon. (Maybe.) There are photos of Five that my “friends” can see on Facebook and on Flickr.
    .-= Juli Ryan´s last post ..Challenge test. =-.

  27. I love the “infamous breastfeeding photo”!!!

    Like you, I just can’t work up too much paranoia about the internet. The internet is public. That’s the reality. I am a lawyer, and I am careful about what I say on my blog. As we say in our business to our clients: If you don’t want to see it on the front page of the Chronicle/Times/Whatever, well, DON’T SAY IT. And especially, for heaven’s sake, DON’T EMAIL IT. I try to live by this too! But basically, I’m an open book. And hoping not to get burned, as a prior commenter said.

    I love your blog, BTW. Keep the pictures coming!

  28. I have a very strict no nudity policy. I’ll show Hollis shirt-less, but that’s because he’s a boy. If I had a little girl, I wouldn’t show her topless regardless of her baby-ness because pedophiles like that. No cute baby butt shots EVER. I only send those directly to very close family (like my mom and sister) and no one else and they know never to pass those on or post them anywhere, either.

    I don’t honestly know the what the big hub-bub is about posting pics of your kids. A pedophile will sexualize a child in any scenario, no matter what we do or how we share our kids. He (or she) will find enjoyment in your little one walking in the mall or playing soccer. It’s not JUST about photos. It’s simply nothing about the child and how he or she is dressed or what he or she is doing anyway. It’s about the sickness of some adult somewhere and, sadly, we can’t control what he (or she) finds exciting.

    Having said that, I do still have my limits re: nudity. I’m not going to ever knowingly share something that would definitely be fodder to a pedophile.
    .-= Jessica – This is Worthwhile´s last post ..It’s just a color. Or is it? =-.

  29. I decided at the beginning of my blog that it wouldn’t be searchable by search engines. It’s kept my blog small…people only get there if they find my link on another blog. I know there is a chance of unwanted visitors, but that chance is small.

    I show no frontal nudity, though I have occasionally shown naked butt pics of my son who is now 22 months, and I am always wondering if I should remove them…it’s hard though because he does spend a lot of time naked and the pictures help tell our story.

    As for content, I am hyper-aware of what I am sharing because everyone I know reads my blog, so if I am okay with all them knowing what I share, then I should be okay with the whole world knowing it, too.
    .-= Lisa C´s last post ..Socialization of Children =-.

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  1. news says:

    […] any of you had any scary online experiences? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Amber at Strocel just wrote this post that I think gives even more insight into how to post personal information in […]

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