Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Online Privacy

One of the many decisions modern parents have to make these days when they have their first child, is how public they will be online with their family/child life and information.  I know many parents who won't post any pictures children online, or very very few, for fear of online predators.  Or they might post only on password-protected websites.

I have, um, clearly chosen a different route.  There was little question in my mind as to posting pictures of Donovan online, in fact my main concerns were how to best get as much of his pictures, videos, etc, online in the most easily accessible way possible, so that family members who were then an ocean away could watch him grow up.

I am a blogger.  I started this blog over 5 years ago, and continue to post regularly.  Especially since becoming a mother, this blog has been my outlet and, at times, my salvation.  I also am a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating something beautiful and sharing that with the world.  It is only natural that my most frequent target also happens to be my child.  Combine all that with a large, very loving family who cannot get enough of their grandchild/nephew/cousin and my deep desire to give that to them as best I can, and what you get is it would be pretty much going against my very nature to NOT post pictures of D, to NOT write a blog on his behalf.

Every so often I've questioned this openness and wondered if I should be more cautious.  I do take precautions, of course-- on this blog I make a very conscious effort to not mention our last names, to not talk about specific places we go to or give away too much detail.  I'm much freer on Donovan's blog, but I keep that link much more secluded as well (you will not find a link to there from here, for example, and his blog is not searchable nor listed in google's directory).  I do link to his blog on facebook and have recently also started importing his posts to my account, but everything on my facebook page is set to be viewable by friends only so should be fairly safe.  My flickr stream is public, but have fixed my settings so only contacts listed as Family & Friends can download my pictures.  I know there are ways around these precautions for someone who is determined, but overall I'm satisfied by the balance of availability and security.

I recently got a weird message on flickr from someone with broken English asking to use Donovan's pictures on Orkut.  A quick search on flickr revealed Orkut to be Google's own social networking site, one that never took off here in the US but is extremely popular in Brazil... and where making up fake profiles and stealing pictures of cute kids and posting them as your own is a very popular game.  Reading through threads in certain groups, this has been a pretty major problem in the past.  It definitely creeped me out a bit.  It made me re-evaluate how public I've been.  This person may go ahead and steal pictures of Donovan, others may already be doing so and there's no real way for me to try to find out.  That is not a pleasant thought.

But I don't think I'm going to change anything because of it.  Here is my thinking-- and I completely understand that many others, possibly most, don't agree, and I'm not trying to make any sorts of judgments on the way anyone else handles this.  Everyone has different comfort levels, preferences, and priorities and you have to do what feels right for you.  But to me, this sort of online "threat" isn't that big of a real threat.  I cannot control what anyone does to an image, just as I cannot control what anyone does to a thought or memory, and I refuse to let that control my life.  Anyone could take a picture of Donovan while we're out (which is legal if you're in a public place) and do whatever they wish with it.  Just as someone could try to kidnap him while we're out, or decide to follow us home from the market (something I see as much more likely than someone tracking us down via the internet).  These are fears, and I take some precautions against them (not letting him out of my sight while in public) but I will not let them keep us from going out and enjoying life and the outdoors. (I also can't help but think that, if the Leta Armstrongs of the blogging world haven't been abducted yet, chances are we're pretty safe.) Similarly, to me (and everyone's different on this) stuff done to a picture of me or him, is not directly harming either of us and it's beyond our control, and it is more important to me that my mom, and sisters, and other family and friends have easy access to them.  The only way to protect him from ever having an image stolen is to never, ever post anything publicly, and I just don't want to be that limited.  Maybe that's selfish of me, I don't know.  This is certainly something that will keep being re-evaluated over time, and Donovan will have a much larger say in what's posted where and how as he gets older.

The funny thing is, while this is definitely a decision that we all make at some point, I wonder how many of us make it very consciously.  I realized when I got that creepy message that I had never sat down and talked to Zach about the way I handle Donovan's online presence (he's well aware of the blog and pictures, etc, and seems fine with it, and overall agrees with me).  So I'm writing this partially to get my thoughts out, and partially to open up the conversation for everyone else, too.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.



    You can choose to live your life in fear of what could potentially happen, or you can focus your energies on living life and being happy. You are taking precautions; that person who emailed you wasn't able to download D's photo, which is why he had to ask permission. Sure, some people can hack into stuff and download the images, but people can also break into your house or attack you when you're playing in the park. Just because that's a possibility is not enough reason for me to lock myself into an underground bunker bomb shelter.

    In other news, I think Blogger is calling D fat. The word verification is "herfer."

  2. I think I'm mostly with you on this. I'm probably even less worried about it than you are. And I'm a Worrier. With a capital W. Before I did anything online, I had a very long discussion with Brian and he seems to have a similar nonchalance. And I trust Brian. Cuz he's a tech guy. And my husband. In hindsight I probably should list "husband" before "tech guy", but it's late and I've had a day.

  3. I couldn't agree more. I've received a couple of those Orkut requests and they creeped me out as well. Clearly it didn't alter our online presence either but I really appreciate you articulating my personal stance on this so well so that I didn't have to!

  4. my daughter is 21 now but if I had a little one, he or she would have their own blog, no doubt!

  5. As the resident tech guy :P I do have a very similar stance as you Marcy. You'll note that our family blog is actually even less content-cautious than yours; though we're not searchable in the web indexes.

    The value of allowing and helping family and friends keep up with the mundane yet oh-so-cool things that the kids do vastly overwhelms whatever people attempt to do with our pictures. Hell, if I find that my picture, or that of my child is being used by some random person I'll take it as a complement - probably even link to it and laugh a bit.
    It's the physical interaction that worries me more. With any kind of digging - someone could find me and subsequently my family. So we do things like you mentioned - never let the child out of our sight when out and about. (still pretty easy when she's not yet mobile) I figure that virtual 'violations' can be ignored... physical ones cannot.

    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

  6. I thought about this early on, and have a similar approach. I decided not to password protect it because I didn't want to make it *that* hard for people to get to it. I'm conscientious of the pictures I post (no obvious naked pictures) and the words I use to avoid certain search topics, but because my daughter is named Angelina, I get a ton of hits from people searching for Angelina Jolie pictures, esp. when she had photos come out of her breastfeeding one of her twins (I have a number of posts about BF).

    But, it doesn't worry me too much. I guess it should, but the way I don't want to live my life in fear. I'm careful, but not overly so.

  7. I think about this too, but honestly I'm more concerned about Finn's privacy for HIS sake (and his future 7th-grade sake!) than I am about safety issues. So for that reason I'm a little cautious about some stories that could potentially be embarrassing, like potty training adventures or naked pics (though we got some awesome dance footage the other day that just happened to be immediately after his bath and was thus naked. too bad, it won't be going online.) As for safety issues, I recently read Free-Range Kids, and it's pretty compelling stuff for giving our kids more freedom. I bet you'd like it ...



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