Most people are rightfully proud when they become parents. They want to share the moment and the images of their new, littlest family members with everyone. With all of today's technologies, it's never been easier to share those precious first smiles, teeth or steps. Just upload the photos and click a button, then, voila! They're arriving in family members' computers, tablets or phones, ready for viewing and loving.
Hold on there for just a few seconds. Some parents, family members or friends of the family have mistakenly shared these photos. Now, they have landed in the virtual hands of someone who wants to do some real harm to the baby. Or the person wants to "kidnap" the images, making them their own.
"Well, there should be a way we can share our child's pictures with family members in another state! Rather than sending physical pictures via snail mail!" It is possible for parents to send those images electronically and be assured that they will not be "kidnapped." By taking a few simple steps, parents and other family members can ensure that offenders won't get those images for their own sick uses. People just need to become more safety-minded as they send pictures of the newest little one.
In this particular digital baby photo danger, complete strangers see someone's baby online. Deciding they like the "look" of the baby, they appropriate (steal) the baby's images so they can create an entire story and even a life around this child, whom they have never met.
Just such a scenario was played out on the "Doctor Phil" show in 2016, when twin daughters of a couple had their images stolen by a single woman living on the East Coast. As described above, she created an entire story about the babies, saying they had been hospitalized for seizures, they were doing better, but still needed to be monitored.
The baby's real parents learned of the theft of the images. They hadn't locked down their social media profiles or taken any other security measures to make it impossible for the other woman to steal their twins' pictures. Here, tightened privacy controls may have helped.
Every parent reading this should check every one of their social media accounts. Look at the privacy settings. For Facebook, it should be set to "friends" only. No "friends of friends" here. This should be done on every social media account, which makes it much harder for those with ill intent to enter their accounts to steal images of their children. If they have albums on Facebook, these should also be made private.
Of course, not posting images at all is the safest measure to take. But if parents have family members and friends elsewhere, it's natural to want to share their happiness with them. Just do so with good, common sense and with safety for children in mind. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr all have safety and privacy settings. To prevent bad-doers from being successful in stealing images, all parents should enable the tightest settings possible.
Parents can make it even harder for photo thieves to steal their child's images by adding digital watermarks to every one of their child's photos before posting them on Facebook or Instagram.
As people browse the photos, they see that unmistakable watermark spread across the center of an image. Rather than go through the time and trouble to remove a watermark from someone else's image, the photo thief will just move on. And that should be the desired outcome for every parent wanting to safely share their child's photos.
Parents also have the option of adding both a visible watermark and one that is virtually invisible. This will make it much more difficult for the photo thief to virtually walk away with a child's image. If someone is determined to steal a watermarked image, they are going to have some technical skills.
Seriously. For some families, it does come down to having to tell them exactly what they can and can't post. Some family members may not be up to date about the dangers the world wide web poses to children and families. Their conversations may go something like this:
"But it's just a few pictures! And that park could be anywhere in the world!" Or, "Your house looks just like any other house in the country. Nobody's going to know where you live." How about, "You're worried about someone knowing we were at the coffee shop down the street from your house? Those predators would have to work awfully hard to figure out your address!"
Make it clear to everyone, including your dearest grandma and aunties, that they cannot post just anything about your children. Educate them about pedophiles using the internet.
If you live in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Orlando or even Washington, D.C., you probably pass by some well-known landmarks, like Liberty Bell, the St. Louis Arch, Disney World or the Capitol Building.
If you take pictures of your children and a famous landmark photo-bombs your picture, don't put that one online! Especially if you live in that city. If you just have to use that image, crop the landmark out so your child could be in any city, USA.
No matter what purpose or intent a photo thief has, by posting that photo of your child standing close to the Arch tells a criminal where a vulnerable child may live. Do the same for photos that feature children of your friends or family members. Tell your family to remove recognizable landmarks from the photos they share online. It protects their children and yours.
This does happen. It makes new parents feel like they've lost just a bit of control over their child's online presence and, possibly, their safety. Parents all across the country caution friends and relatives, "Don't share this without asking us first!"
(This happened to my daughter-in-law. A distant family member shared her child's images without asking for permission. She was understandably upset, so she tightened her privacy controls when it came to their daughter.)
Several reasons for this practice exist: First, parents don't know the friends of their friends or family members. They could be good people or not. Second, those pictures could end up in the hands of someone who wants to use them for illegal purposes. While the child isn't directly physically victimized, they are victimized nevertheless.
Advertisers and people who want to create videos with children's pictures prefer photos with a high resolution. Parents need to stump them at this by lowering the resolution of the photos.
What does a lower resolution on internet images do? It may be inevitable, but the person who stole a child's image may want to enlarge the picture for their own needs. A lower resolution makes this virtually impossible. That lowered resolution also works when the thief tries to print the image. It won't print out very easily or attractively.
If the thief tries to go ahead and use a low-resolution image anyway, the results will be less than underwhelming. If someone wants to use a child's image for an advertisement, it will be completely unusable. This is one of the best suggestions available. Family members won't care that images of baby Emmie are low-res. As long as they get the images, they are happy!
Thankfully, Facebook has a wonderful feature called "notifications," which sends you an alert about when someone engages with your profile. If you post an image of your baby, make it a point to check which "friends" are liking that post. Is it the in-laws, your best friend, or that creepy guy you forgot added you on FB years ago? This is a good way to see, first hand, who is viewing your images and videos, and gives you a good reason to clean up your Facebook friend list. If you're going to post personal images, why not keep your friend list close and personal? The same goes if your friend uploads a picture of you baby and make sure she tags you. This way, you can properly access the image and let your friend know if you want him/her to take it down.
Parents who enjoy sharing updates and photos about their children should pause for a few minutes. If that picture of someone's daughter, standing in a kiddie pool, wailing her eyes out looks cute, so be it. When that child grows up into a young, sensitive teen, she won't think it's cute. She'll be embarrassed.
That picture of a little boy missing a baseball may seem like documentation of his development as a baseball player. But for him, it may not be so. If he decides he's going to go out for the university baseball team, that picture could haunt him with future teammates. Parents tempted to post such pictures should ask themselves, "Would I want such a picture of myself online?" If the answer is no, don't put the picture online.
Parents eager to post their child's images online may skip the Terms of Service (TOS). This is a mistake. Some social media and photo-sharing sites have language on their sites saying that posting images actually gives permission to the sites and to other users to use their child's images.
Parents who think that sweet bathtub photo is innocent doesn't think like a pedophile. They should only post images of their child when they are fully clothed. Here's an alarming thought: By posting nearly nude photos online, parents put themselves at risk of being arrested and charged with child violations!
Pretty much every social media and photo-sharing sight has the option for users to enable their location. Parents should resist this temptation! If they want to refer to their location, they should do so in a general way.
When new parents put that very first photo of their beloved child on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, they are creating their baby's first digital footprint. And it can't be erased. Ever.
Before thinking of safety, parents should answer one question: "Will this be a history our child will be proud of?" These are the embarrassing pictures that most families seem to have of their children: Those images of them stark-naked in the tub or running down the hall with a new diaper in hand.
Now that employers are more regularly checking the backgrounds of potential employees, this could come back to haunt an otherwise-innocent job applicant. Rather than keep every picture of their child from being posted for family members, parents need to view each one carefully. If it passes the acceptability question, then post it.
People looking for a baby's photos are much more willing to grab something that is easily obtainable. If they see that one particular family posts several pictures on a daily basis, that family is more likely to see their child's images being "kidnapped."
People looking for names and identities they can steal (yes, identity theft) have begun to look to young children who have no credit history. Some of these children already have an internet presence. Parents who still choose to put their child's images online should limit as much information as possible. Delete last names and dates of birth. Instead of posting 10 similar images, post only one or two.
For school children, don't post home addresses, school names or school addresses. Getting a passport for your little one? Don't post a pic of it online! This is digital red meat to an identity thief!
Parents trying to protect their children do well to lock down how much information becomes public knowledge. Eventually, these children are going to want to create their own social media accounts. Because their images have been online for so many years, they already have a presence there.
Cautious parents can teach their children to limit what they post: school name, address, home address, community name and even the names of their friends.
While someone who is, say, writing a book may scroll through a parent's social media account to look for good character names, that's one thing. If someone has ill intent toward an innocent child, that's a crime in the making. Pre-teens and teens suffer from a common malady, known as "invincibility." In other words, "Mom, that won't happen to me. Calm down."
Avoid the internet completely. Families who don't like its qualities and the risks they see have one final option. Just don't put any pictures of their children online. Ever. Sure, this will mean that everyone in that family's circle of friends will be asking forevermore for online photos. They are just going to need to learn to respect the family's decision.
Make physical photos and send copies to friends and family. In this way, almost all of the dangers of the internet can be avoided. Family members and friends may need to wait a few weeks for the photos to arrive via snail mail. But that's better than never getting any photos of the newest additions to the family.
In this way of "photo-sharing" that neatly forestalls all of the risks of online pictures, you will be able to control who gets the pictures.
Sources: npr.org, commonsensemedia.org, drphil.com, familyshare.com, html.com, thespruce.com, puresight.com, parents.com, watermark-image.com, smartparenting.com, Techlicious, CBS Sacramento, DrPhil.com, click'n moms, BETdownload.com, ByteScout, Kreson.com, TermsFeed, thestar.com, Reader's Digest, Ciao Bambino, HuffPost U.K., WPTV.com, Sprout Social, PSG Photo Solutions, TermsFeed