If you’re a parent or are friends with one right about now, your Facebook and Instagram feeds are likely clogged with an endless stream of proud back-to-school photos. It’s practically become a rite of passage for parents to snap and post these photos.
Even with all the hub bub around social media app security, you shouldn’t expect much of a slowdown. As CNBC reports, social media apps Facebook and Instagram haven’t exactly been hurt by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal — a survey of about 1,300 U.S. Facebook and Instagram users found that two-thirds of respondents were logged on at least as much as they were last year. And it was just reported that Facebook banned a quiz app amid concerns that data on as many as four million users may have been misused.
Even so, with all this going on, is it really safe to post something as personal as images of our kids anymore? We asked a couple of tech safety experts their opinion and they say yes — and no. There are some risks, but parents can mitigate them with a little forethought.
“Whether it’s posting back-to-school pictures or family vacation pictures, we should always be aware that we’re actively creating a digital brand for our kids without their input or permission. What may be cute, sweet or funny to us as adults may not be to our kids down the line, so we should always be cognizant of that. Of course, we also run the risk of giving out too much information, and that information ending up in the wrong hands,” says Katie Greer of KL Greer Consulting, a firm that educates schools, law enforcement agencies, large corporations and community organizations about the ins and outs of internet and technology safety.
What kind of information? For starters, your home or school address. “A photo that you take of your kids on your front stoop, in your neighborhood or by the school entrance may contain personally identifiable information, such as your street name, house number, last name or your kids' school's name,” says Caroline Knorr, Senior Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization designed to help kids and parents navigate media and technology.
“While the risk is fairly small, there are people with bad intentions — such as people looking to rip off photos to sell for stock photography, identity hackers, predators, or even sales people targeting parents — who troll social media platforms looking for any clues that could give them some way into your life,” she says.
Before you know it, your personal photos can end up somewhere you least expect. “Screen shots, sharing, reposting, even innocuously, can mean these pictures unintentionally end up in places we never imagined,” says Greer. “Since there are so many users on social media, and technology moves so quickly, it’s often hard to contain posts that get out.”
How to post photos of your children safely
To do what you can to protect your back-to-school photos and your kids, keep these tips in mind:
There’s no easier way to tell the world where you are, or were, than geotagging.
“Tagging your kids at their school allows those posts to come up in searches, so I always advise people not to tag locations, just reference them in a caption,” advises Greer.
Erase location clues
Make sure any sort of personal way of identifying you or your children — such as your address, your kid’s school’s name, or a uniform that might identify what school they go to, is out of sight in any photo you post.
Limit your audience
Both experts agree the first — and easiest — step to keep your photos away from potential interlopers is to simply adjust your privacy settings. Make them fairly restrictive — to either friends only, or friends of friends, says Knorr. Or, create a custom, closed group of close friends and share your back-to-school photos that way. Mind you, these settings aren’t by any means foolproof. “Most important is to understand that privacy settings are a courtesy, NOT a guarantee,” says Greer. “They’re there to give users a bit more control of who has access to their information, but at any point in time this information can be shared, saved, hacked, etc., so there’s no guarantee it won’t go elsewhere.”
Don’t tag your child — or other children — in photos you share
“Facebook works by creating connections. The more connections someone has, the more data it generates, which Facebook and third parties can collect and monetize,” explains Knorr. “The tag creates a link to the tagged user's profile and that increases their digital footprint on the platform. Your kid's online visibility will increase, as well with more links or tags going to his or her profile. The more visibility, the less control you have over your own online identity.” Fortunately, Facebook allows you to limit your tag settings. And don’t forget to turn off facial recognition, which can also lead to increased visibility since it allows people to be tagged, even if the original poster doesn't know you personally, Knorr adds.
Don’t share photos of other people’s kids (unless you have permission)
Your kid is your business, but other kids are their parents’ business. “It’s really hard in this 'sharing' world we live in to balance our excitement with others’ expectations of privacy,” says Greer. “Before you post, always ask permission and don’t assume. Many parents of younger kids seem to be more and more against sharing any pictures or information about their kids.”
Make your boundaries clear
Make sure you have a trusted group of followers, and that those followers are aware of your boundaries around sharing your posts. A well-intentioned, over-sharing aunt, uncle or grandparent may not be as on top of their privacy settings as you are, says Greer.
So, when the first day of school comes, go ahead and tell your kids to strike a pose. They may not feel like smiling, but you can feel a little better about sharing whatever expression you get out of them.
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