We often teach children not to speak to strangers, but we seldom realize that we may actually be offering them up for exploitation by strangers on the internet every day.
While it comes natural to many of us to shield our children from the dangers awaiting them in the real world, the digital world is, to many, still some sort of shifted reality, not real, a fantasy. But due to technology use, we (global IT users) have arrived at a place where much of our reality happens in the digital realm.
It is so easy to get swept up by the fantasy of presenting your perfect, happy life on the internet for all to see, and our children are a big part of that. It is only natural that we want to share the happiest moments of our lives with those we love and connect with daily. Just remember the joy you felt when you found out you were having the baby you always dreamed of having, the first day your child went to school, or their 5th birthday. These are the happy moments we want to capture and keep memories of forever. The internet and social media are great libraries for storing all these precious moments. However, this may not be the best approach for our children.
At present, it is believed that children born today will have the biggest digital footprint in history. According to 2018 a report by the Children´s Commissioner for England, an average person in the UK will have had 70,000 posts shared about them online by the time they turn 18. That is a huge amount of data shared and stored about a person. This data is then accessible to many more than you might realize. Let us look at some threats this poses to your child´s safety, and not only online.
1. Your image no longer belongs to you
Anytime you post a picture on social platforms, that image is no longer exclusively yours. The terms and conditions of these platforms often state that the moment an image is uploaded onto their server, they are free to use it without consent. While you retain the copyright to the image, the platform whose servers host the image owns the license. In other words, the social platform is allowed to use your picture in any way they see fit.
2. Baby Identity? My Identity
Sharing your children´s information or images online may result in identity theft. Posting ultrasound pictures, with sensitive information, exposes the child to risks even before they are born. Sometimes, a post may include a child´s name, date of birth or location. Then, in just a few clicks, a perpetrator may discover the parents’ personal information. Combine all that with data breaches and social security numbers readily available on the Dark web, and you have a quick and easy recipe for identity theft – with hackers possibly obtaining credit in the child´s name. According to banking leader Barclays, risks stemming from posting your children’s pictures online will account for two-thirds of identity fraud and financial scams facing young people by 2030.
3. Metadata says it all
Social platforms are not responsible for striping your images of metadata. This includes, for example, your location, type of device used to take the photo and so on. An average digital perpetrator may very easily use this to locate your child, where they go to school, where you live, what extracurricular activities they attend, and where. Even a photo of your child’s art project may include their name.
4. Attract the wrong crowd
A good rule of thumb is, if there is the slightest doubt in your mind about a photo, it’s better not to post it. Also, try to refrain from posting nude baby pictures online. Even an innocent potty-training photo, or a child running around the garden nude, may attract the wrong crowd, and a photo of your child may end up in ill-intentioned hands.
5. Permission is your mission
Realizing your children will inherit the consequences of your online behavior is a serious thing. As such, seeking your children’s permission to post them, or anything about them, on your social media makes them conscious that there are choices to male and consequences -both positive and negative- too. If you want to post a picture of your child with another child, you should ask their permission, too, or that of their parents or legal guardians, just as you would an adult. In France, if you post a picture of your child online and they later object, you might face a fine of 45,000 EUR, or jail. Similar laws are in place in Italy.
6. Reinforcing bad habits
Posting about every single moment of your child’s life may reinforce bad habits and create a false reality that sharing everything online is okay and harmless. Make sure you teach your children to use social media and online spaces safely and responsibly. Talk to them about the dangers, but also show them the fun part of it. Unlike you, they were never given the choice to opt in, and can’t escape the online world. Instead, they will have to navigate their way around it.
Considering that social media platforms have a policy of only allowing people over the age of 13 to use their services, you should also think twice before posting your child online. Many of us have decided to use social media, but your child may not have made the same choice. The safety of our children is the highest priority, and their digital safety should not lag behind. If your child uses social media, make sure they stay safe with ESET Parental Control, which helps you keep your child safe and secure online.
After all, taking your own, and your child’s, safety and digital security seriously and responsibly is the best choice you can make. Making sure your child understands what you do, and why you do it, is essential to bringing up responsible users of the internet. However, we cannot expect them to know their way around without giving them the road map. Talk to them and explain our crazy digital world. You are, and should be, their first contact with a safer internet.
by Alžbeta Kovaľová, ESET