Forming your child’s online reputation

I’ve posted pictures and stories of my kids on my family website, on Facebook, and republished to various other platforms for a long time. In fact, since before they were born.

And it seems I’m far from alone.

A study by the internet security firm AVG found that 92% of U.S. children aged two and under have a presence online. The cause, obviously, is a generation of parents familiar with the web enthusiastically leveraging it to share information with friends and family regardless of geographic and temporal boundaries.

What does this mean for our kids as they grow older? Will having a historical record of their childhood preserved online – without their consent – give them another reason to seek counseling?

This excerpt from the Mashable article summarizes the report nicely:

…On average, 23% of parents share images from prenatal sonograms on the web; a full third do so in the U.S. The practice is even more common in Canada (37%), and significantly less popular in western Europe (13-15%) and Japan (14%).After birth, 7% of babies and toddlers have an e-mail address created for them (12% in Spain), and 5% have their own profile on a social network.

When asked why they were inspired to post images of their infants online, more than 70% of parents said it was because they wanted to share them with friends and family; 22% of mothers said they wanted to expand the content on their social networking profiles, while 18% admitted they were merely mimicking their peers. Few (3.5%) expressed concern about the amount of information that would be available about their children in future years.

AVG CEO J.R. Smith said he found it “shocking” that most 30-year-olds have an “online footprint stretching back 10 to 15 years at most, while the vast majority of children today will have online presence by the time they are two years old — a presence that will continue to build throughout their whole lives.”

He cautions parents to think about the kinds of information they upload about their children to the web, since that content “will follow him or her for the rest of their life.”

The AVG post comments on some critical security aspects of this trend:

Regrettably it only takes a few minutes to find unprotected baby albums and even pictures of antenatal scans on Facebook that are open to the wider online world, so we have put together a guide on how to secure your Facebook privacy. You can also download and use our “AVG Nursery infographic” that we have posted on Flickr for sharing, so please do so.

It’s important for parents today to realise they are creating an online dossier for a human being that will be with them for years to come. It’s worth considering what kind of digital footprint or online history you want to leave for your child. And when your child is a teenager or adult, what will they make of the information you are currently uploading now?

I admit that I fall into the following categories identified in the report:

  • 33% of children’s photos and information posted online within weeks of being born
  • 23% of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans
  • 7% of babies and toddlers have an email address created for them by their parents

In the last couple of years, I’ve taken strides to be more careful about the privacy and security of my kids and what I post about them online. For instance, I only use their first initial or a nickname I created solely for identifying them on the website instead of their full first name. I have always been very selective about the content of the media I post about them (e.g., the cute bathtub shots stay off the website, secure in scrapbooks and hard drives to be pulled out at convenient moments like their first date). But now I pay closer attention to the metadata I include in the titles, description, tags, etc.

If you publicly post information about your kids online, what security measures do you take (or are you going to now)?

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