Kids today might never know true privacy. Even before they’re born, many are on display for the whole world to see. Just take a look through your social media feeds. Chances are you’ll run into sonograms and due dates of as-yet-unborn children.
As a proud parent, you want to share your kids’ adventures and milestones with friends and family. It helps connect everyone, especially if they live far away with few chances to see your kids. And we do so even while knowing it might not be the best privacy move. It’s also not uncommon for parents to block out the faces of their kids (and especially kids who are not their own) on social media.
Posting photos of your kids online can have negative consequences, both today and in your kids’ futures. Let’s take a look at how posting your kids’ photos online can affect them, as well as ways to safely share those treasured moments.
1. Your child’s photos are no longer in your control
You took the photo. You posted it on social media. It belongs to you, right? Well, it’s not that simple.
When you post a picture to most social media sites, while you remain the owner of that image (the copyright holder), you are granting the social media company a license to use it and even to allow others to use it. This license generally lasts until you delete the photo from your account.
Let’s say you post a photo of you and your toddler paddling at the beach. An advertiser can take this image—sold to them by the social media site you uploaded the photo to—and use it to promote their products or services, all without asking your permission.
However, while social platforms can in theory use your photos for all kinds of things, they probably won’t. The license you grant them is mainly to allow them to host the photo on their site and apply adjustments to it for different display styles. Nonetheless, it is creepy that they can have so much power over your kids’ images.
2. Your child might become a victim of identity fraud
It’s a proud moment when your child starts school. You snap a picture of your child smiling outside the school gates to celebrate their big day, before posting the photo on Facebook for the rest of the family. The name of the school is visible in the background. Seems harmless, right?
Well, such geographic markers can be used to track where your child lives, plays, and goes to school. If you do share photos of your kids online, avoid including such information. In fact, it’s good to avoid any personal identifying information in pictures and posts of your child. Names, dates, and places of birth should be avoided. Be sure to crop out or obscure such information, as identity thieves can use it to steal your child’s identity.
That’s right. Even children can become targets of identity theft. If you notice bills or credit cards arriving at your home in your child’s name, chances are they’ve fallen victim to identity fraud. One recent study found that more than 1.25 million children fell victim to identity theft and fraud in a year.
If your child becomes a victim of identity fraud and you’re in the U.S., alert the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. They’ll send you a credit report and freeze your child’s credit to protect them against future fraud.
3. The risks of physical harm or kidnapping
We don’t like thinking about it, but broadcasting your children’s faces, interests, and frequented locations on social media could put them at risk of physical harm or kidnapping.
In Japan, police recently reported a disturbing statistic: in 2021, 86 children were kidnapped in the country using social media, up from 11 in the previous year. In the U.S., the FBI has raised alarm bells about abductions facilitated by social media use. The FBI’s concerns mainly surround kids’ own social media interactions—but parents would be wise to keep their children’s lives private for this safety reason, too.
4) It puts your child at risk of ‘digital kidnapping’
In 2015, mommy blogger Lindsey Paris clicked to see who had recently liked her Facebook page and discovered a photo of her then-18-month-old toddler staring back at her. A stranger, who turned out to be a 16-year-old, was pretending Paris’s baby was her own; the child had become a victim of digital kidnapping.
Digital kidnapping is when someone takes an image of a child from social media and gives them a new name and identity. Often, this person will claim the child as their own. They might create entire fake families.
Then there are those who use the stolen images to engage in baby role-play. Described as the “the creepiest new corner of Instagram,” baby role-play involves people stealing photos of babies or young children and pretending to feed or play with them. Some even role-play as the child, answering questions posed by other Instagram users in the voice of the child.
For example, if a user asks the fake child, “Do you like pasta?” the account would reply, “Me wuve pasta.” There are also more malicious scenarios, such as the fake child role-playing as being “nakey” or worse.
5) Your child cannot consent to what you post about them
If someone posts a photo of you online, you can reach out to them and ask them to remove it. If you find the photo defamatory, you could even take legal action. However, it’s rare for children to be asked if they feel comfortable with others—parents included—posting photos or videos of them online. Does your 5-year-old really want you to upload that video of them throwing a tantrum or doing something silly? Plus, kids who are very young—say, infants—have no way of consenting.
In fact, some countries see posting photos without consent as such a violation that they’ve instituted legal consequences. In France, if you post a picture of your child and they later object, you could be fined up to 45,000 euros or even face jail time. Italy also has similar laws.
6) It could negatively affect your child’s future
Remember those photos you posted to Facebook in high school? Unless you deleted them or your Facebook profile, they’re still online, ready and waiting for someone to find them.
You might be ashamed of some of them. Others might affect your ability to get a job. Yes, recruiters will stalk your social media profiles during the interview process.
Now think of your kids. Those embarrassing videos of them you uploaded? They could affect your child’s future in similar ways. Bullies could find the photos and use them as fodder against your child. College and job recruiters could make judgments about your child from the photos you’ve posted.
How to safely share photos of your kids online
The risks haven’t stopped most parents from posting photos of their kids. So here are some tips when you do include their faces on your feeds.
Set up alerts for when your child’s name shows up in search results
You can use Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts to get notified if your child’s name appears on any search engine. This includes mentions on blogs, forums, and websites, with Talkwalker even claiming they can detect mentions on social media sites.
Pay attention to privacy settings on social media sites
If you decide to still share photos of your child on social media, be sure to thoroughly check the privacy settings available to you. Are you able to make your profile private? Can you restrict who can view your photos and who you can share content with? Can the social media site use your photos for their own purposes? Consider all this and more when deciding where to share your kids’ photos.
Use KidsLink to share photos of your kids instead
KidsLink is a privacy app that enables you to share photos of your kids over the app with an approved list of people, such as friends and family. This makes it next to impossible for strangers to gain access to images of your children. Just make sure to tell those you’ve approved to not share photos outside of the app.
Ask your kids for permission to post
Before uploading photos of your child, make a habit of consulting with them first. Ask if they feel comfortable with you sharing the photo in question. And do it early. Age 4 to 5 is a good time to start, as it’ll help your kids establish their own boundaries while also preparing them to handle conversations about similar topics of consent and trust.
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