Protecting Your Child’s Anonymity Online

An article on Slate this week titled “We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online” is getting a lot of attention, at least in part because it’s a very vocal critique of a current parenting trend – sharing pictures of your kids online, particularly on Facebook, but secondarily because the author spells out the painstaking care with which she and her partner staked out a digital footprint for their child before birth.

babyIn the first part of the article, the author explains the reason for the desired digital anonymity of her child. Since Facebook and other sites, apps and networks are attempting to build a digital dossier on all internet users, she is opting instead for her child to be completely excluded. Writing about a friend’s child “Kate”, whose parents do frequently post content related to their daughter, she offers the following:

“The easiest way to opt-out is to not create that digital content in the first place, especially for kids. Any hopes Kate may have had for true anonymity ended with that ballet class YouTube channel.”

While that is factually correct, there are benefits to communicating with friends and family online, which will be missed if opting out.

The second part of the article will seem over the top to a lot of people, starting with the fact that the couple chose a name based in part on whether the corresponding Gmail address was available:

“With her name decided, we spent several hours registering her URL and a vast array of social media sites…On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we’ve never posted any content. When we think she’s mature enough…she’ll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we’ll ensure that she’s making informed decisions about what’s appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom.”

If you want to choose your child’s name based on whether the Gmail address or Facebook vanity URL is available, that’s fine with me. (Confession: I secured Gmail addresses for my kids soon after they were born.) By all means make a conscious decision about when your child is old enough to participate on social media networks.  That being said, the extent to which these parents are going to both preserve their child’s anonymity and ensure that she has a good online profile seems nutty to me.

The article was posted to Reddit, in the subreddit /r/TrueReddit, which usually has some pretty thoughtful debate. Understanding that Reddit commenters are active online, the comments on the story were quite illustrative of the range of opinions out there, including some of the most extreme:

“How obtuse and out of the loop must you be to think Facebook or Gmail will still be relevant in 10-15 years? How obsessive compulsive must you be to think that removing everyones tags from pictures of your kid is going to give her any sort of benefit long term?”

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“I don’t want my daughter’s photo searchable by everyone on the planet either (and that app the hackers developed, which takes a photo and instantly identifies the person’s full name and bio information is very unsettling).”

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“This is why I don’t check in to anything. (Also, everything on my FB is set to be visible to friends only.)”

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“Helicopter parents. that child is going to grow up with psychological trauma.”

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“I agree. No pics of my child have gone up on social media, though I have taken thousands. I have emailed them though, but relatives know not to post them.”

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“I especially like that they also got her a GitHub login. “No pressure honey, but since you were a fetus we have been preparing for your first line of code.””

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“Do it [post Facebook pics of your child]. Your extended family will love it, and it’s a way to stay close with people you don’t get to see that often…and your child will be closer with them as a result. People who don’t want to see your baby pictures won’t look at them. Don’t worry about Facebook. Worry about making sure your baby is in a car seat. Worry your child is getting read to on a regular basis. Worry you’re holding your child enough, and kissing them enough, and spending enough time with them, and celebrating every moment because it goes so f**king fast you wouldn’t even believe it.”

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“Is the lack of privacy in our world a bad thing? Sure. But it’s the world today. Swathing your child in freakish and extreme privacy measures just goes against common sense and the realities of living. I shudder to imagine what it must be like to be related to these self satisfied, overprotective and judgmental assholes. What a pain in the ass they must be at the holidays.”

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“This is laughably absurd. Aside from the fact that gmail, Facebook, and Github probably won’t even be around by the time this girl is an adult, the entire plan is flawed and eventually just leads to the family essentially becoming luddites.

What happens when “Kate” goes to a friend’s birthday party and the friend’s parents take a couple of photos? Do Kate’s parents rush in and demand the photo be deleted? (AFAIK sites like Facebook can build an “identity” for you without you having an account).

Will “Kate” not be allowed to be in her elementary school yearbook (which is undoubtedly online as well)?

Of course, “Kate’s” parents are operating solely on the idea that an online identity is a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 11.54.27 AMSolution: Don’t post anything online that you don’t want people to see. Done. This goes for adults too.

I fear for “Kate’s” mental well-being if she’s being raised by such paranoid nuts.”

A post at Naked Security shortly after, which describes the contrast between the views of the writer of the above article and an opposing one in Salon, includes a poll, the results of which are at the right. In the poll (small sample size, I know), only 10% of respondents think posting picture of your kids online makes you a bad parent.

I’m not going to go into an ad hominem attack on the writer of the Slate article, but as with all things, we recommend moderation when it comes to allowing children to access the internet and social media. My guess is that this child is not going to have the opportunity to experiment or make mistakes at the age that most other kids begin to do so. Both are important parts of growing up.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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