Children's wooden abacus

While this is something that I keep on repeating privately on a regular basis, I have never published anything on this subject here. Time to fix this and dive into some of the reasons why you should restrain yourself from posting anything about your children on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, etc.). I am probably naively hoping that one more post on the subject will make a difference and that some people will end up on this page and radically modify their behavior.

1. You Do Not Own What You Post

As soon as the file (image, video or whatever you want to share) leaves your computer, you should consider that it is not your property any more. The content can be copied, stored on multiple servers, used by advertisers, etc. In other words, this does not belong to you anymore, so you do not really own what you posted.

To confirm this, one can read through the terms of service and privacy policies. As an example, let’s have a look at Facebook Terms last updated January 31, 2018:

You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you. If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

So to be clear, anything that you save on the platform can be used to promote something without your knowledge. Everything that you publish can be used in one way or another. So think twice before allowing that to happen with pictures of your children.

2. You Do Not Know When Terms and Conditions Might Get Updated

What will happen in the future to your pictures, videos or more generally any content that you share? Might they become public just because Facebook decided to update their terms and conditions? Of course, every single platform will say that they protect the privacy of their users and following any change of the terms, one is free to deactivate or terminate their account. But how many people actually read those changes? Most likely not many.

Terms and conditions are updated on a regular basis and if I use Facebook as an example one more time, I cannot recall that I received any information prior to the update that took place on January 31, 2018. While they might decide to inform their users about upcoming changes, this is not an obligation. This therefore means that unless you go and check by yourself on a regular basis, and compare the previous terms to the new ones, you are most likely not going to realize if any changes that impact your posts is taking place. Could your children beautiful pictures end up become public?

3. (Most of the) People Are Not Interested

Let’s be honest two minutes here and ask yourself how many people in your friends, connections, followers or whatever term is actually use to represent the people to whom you are somewhat linked with are actually interested in the picture that you are posting? Probably a handful, including your own family (that meet your children on a regular basis already) and your closest friends.

To stay consistent, let’s use Facebook one more time as a example. I am connected there to around 300 people. If I were to post pictures of my family, this means that it could potentially reach all 300, most of them I haven’t met for years. Am I really that interesting to think that everybody want to see how great (or not) my life is? And in the world of Facebook I am only a small pawn. Some of my connections have more than 1000 “friends”, one even reaching more than 2300. Wow, that’s a lot of people potentially reachable – do you really want to reach everybody with the latest picture of your youngest one picking his nose?

4. Coding Mistakes

There is no doubt that popular social media code base actually contain a lot of code. Those companies also rely on a number of software engineers to produce and update this code (there are for sure some Artificial Intelligence at work nowadays but let still consider this a minority). To put it in really simple terms: lots of people + lots of code => lots of potential mistakes.

Mistakes are not necessarily always putting your data in jeopardy, but sometimes they do. While you might be fine living with this kind of risk, I thought it was important to highlight it. One day, your private pictures might become publicly available, unwillingly.

5. Security Breaches

Social media are extremely popular. The top 5 platforms contain billions of accounts. Those accounts contain really valuable information and this results in security experts trying to identify flaws to get access to their data. It might be legit through bug bounty programs (for instance Facebook’s or Twitter’s) but it might as well be fraudulent (organized crime activities for instance).

The problem with security breaches is that it sometimes takes a long time before they become known to the public. Do you really want to take the risk with your vulnerable progeny?

6. Who’s watching?

This is somewhat related to an earlier point and the question that you should ask yourself is: who will see this? Sure you might be sharing privately to this small family group, but I hope that by now you have understood that you have no control over the data that you publish. First thing first, this small group might get a lot bigger if you do not own it, so more people might get access to the data as time passes by. Second, some people work and review content being posted, censoring from time to time what you might publish. As you might understand, this means that employees of those social media platforms have access to your content as well. Sure they do sign the necessary confidentiality agreement but it doesn’t prevent the occasional “employee gone rogue” event.

In addition of the platform own employees, you might have heard about some government agencies in the USA that have access to whatever data they deem of interest. This might or might not be through direct access to the company servers (read more about PRISM if you are interested) but either way, this means that you cannot be sure of who will be having a look at those nice pictures of yours.

7. Who’s Stealing?

Digital kidnapping is a thing. How would it feel to see your children pictures on someone else’s profile, pretending that they are their own children? This is what digital kidnapping is all about: sick people inventing another life for your pictures where your children are not yours anymore. How creepy is that?

I must admit that I was not even aware of this kind of risk until recently. This is probably the latest consequence of the availability of such private data to a wider audience that you do not really fully know. If everything else was not convincing enough, I hope that this is an eye opener!

8. Social Media Are Not a Backup Strategy

Some people are using social media as a backup for their memories. If you do, just stop, because you might not be able to get back what you shared. If you are looking for a backup solution, there are plenty around. Just look it up but do not use any social media platform for this purpose.

9. You Can Never Be Sure That Everything Is Deleted

Would you choose to delete anything, you can unfortunately not be sure when / if the data will ever be completely removed. Those platforms have backups of your data all over the world, meaning that it does take time before the backups containing your data actually expire and the data is deleted forever (if it actually does).

One more time, make sure that you read the terms of service of your favorite platform. In the case of Facebook you can expect that at one point your data will be deleted:

“When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”

10. You Do Not Own the Rights on Your Children’s Friend

Alright, this point is not specifically related to your own children, but I have seen this too many times not to write a word about this: parents posting pictures of their children’s friends from whatever event (birthday, Halloween, etc.) without considering that they should ask permission before actually posting this online.

Posting pictures of yourself is one thing: you own your rights and are aware (or should be) of the consequences of your action (read all the previous paragraphs if needed to understand some of the risks). Posting pictures of your kids is another, and posting pictures of your kid’s friend(s) is then yet another one (even though, to simplify the thinking you should consider anybody else but yourself a third party from whom you should seek authorization before publication). You might think that you own the rights to your kids digital identity – until they turn 18 or reach the age of majority at least – but you should really reconsider this.

So to summarize, while it might be legal to post pictures of your children, you might have understood now that simply because it is legal does not mean that you should do it. Wait for them to be in age to fully understand what that means to get their pictures published and until then, just don’t it. And please, please do not publish pictures of them with friends without asking permission.

11. Bonus: Your Children Will Thank You Later

Alright, before you think that I am not able to count to 10 anymore, this point is not really a reason as such for not publishing pictures of your children. However, if you do restrain from doing it, you can expect that your children will see a number of insane stories that their friends have been through due to their parents putting precious pictures online and they will thank you for not having done the same thing to them.

As I said in introduction, I hope (probably too naively) that this will convince some parents to stop posting pictures / videos of their charming children on Facebook or other public places. They deserve a normal life with the right to forget that we have ourselves enjoyed when growing up.

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