Sharenting, a combination of the words "sharing" and "parenting," refers to the practice of parents sharing pictures and videos of their children on various social media platforms.
While many perceive it as an innocent way to connect with other parents or keep family members up to date, sharenting also exposes children to various risks that parents may not have initially considered. Some risks, such as bullying or misuse by strangers, are more commonly recognized, while others emerge due to advancements in technology, artificial intelligence, and evolving data collection practices: deep fakes, breaches, and identity theft.
Topics such as children's digital footprint, privacy, consent, and digital rights bring fresh perspectives to the ongoing conversation about sharenting.
A child's digital identity is created with the first post about them. Sometimes, this is a pregnancy announcement or an ultrasound picture posted on social media.
From that moment on, day by day, post by post, parents are building a comprehensive digital identity for their children adding new details like colors on an empty canvas. By the time a child is old enough to use the internet, their digital footprint is even larger than the parent's and features diverse information: from name and age to how their voice sounds like, what they like to wear, to their favorite foods, and tantrums.
If parents' social media profiles are public, this wealth of information becomes accessible to anyone and may be susceptible to potential misuse. In the event of a breach in their parents' online accounts, the child's information is also exposed.
Here's an overview of the potential pitfalls of sharenting with the only scope of empowering parents to share mindfully, take control, and manage their family's personal information.
1. Reveal too much about your children to bad actors
Sharing images of your kids online can lead to harmful consequences, with one of the worst-case scenarios being unwitting exposure to child predators. Digital photographs contain a wealth of hidden data, including location, time, interests, and frequented places.
For example, let's take a "first day at school" photo. It discloses details such as the child's school, uniform as a clue, or the street name of the family home. Geotags even allow individuals with malicious intent to track the child's real-time location.
Predators can access these images without needing to be in your contacts, especially if your profile is public or if one of your contacts has shared them publicly or with other 'friends.'
Videos and photos posted on social networks can be hijacked and used to create fake profiles, share them with other strangers, or distribute them on shady networks.
One only needs a photo or voice sample to train A.I. to generate "clones" and then use them to scam and scare parents. Read the story of the Trapp family, who went through a horrific ordeal.
2. Children's digital identity theft
You might think that identity theft happens only to adults, but in fact, a child's digital identity is even more tempting for cybercriminals as it is a "clean slate" – no records or incidents are related to it.
Did you know?
Even basic details can become a goldmine for identity thieves. A fraudster might exploit photos to discover your address or use information from your posts to guess your passwords or the answers to security questions. More personal information, like a mother's maiden name, names of pets, and details about school, holidays, can be gathered from a parent's social media account.
When combined with data obtained through phishing, from the Dark Web through data breaches or from public services, cybercriminals can easily steal a child's identity for malicious purposes. They can start accessing bank accounts or making credit applications. And because few parents or legal guardians regularly monitor their children's credit, the scams can go undetected for years.
3. Digital kidnapping
This type of identity theft involves stealing images of a child and pretending that the child is their own, typically by posting the stolen images on their social media accounts. This malicious act is often carried out to expose private or sensitive information that could adversely impact the child's life, affecting their chances of college acceptance or subjecting them to bullying.
4. Profiling could affect children in the long run
The rise of data collection and analysis provides another compelling reason to avoid data over-sharing. Information about our likes and dislikes, financial status, age, race, religion, etc., is constantly being collected and sold to advertisers. The more data you provide about your child, the easier it becomes for advertisers to target them before he's old enough to make informed purchasing decisions.
And yet, there are other threats. As machine learning evolves, collected data may be used to analyze or predict aspects about a person, for example, performance at work, financial situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behavior, etc. Organizations can use profiling to make decisions about people. For example, banks might use profiling to decide whether to allow a person to take out a loan, and colleges and universities might decide whether a candidate is a match for the institution.
It may be difficult today to measure the extent and consequences of the footprints left on children in the future.
5. Online privacy and their right to create their own digital identity
Today, ensuring online privacy and empowering children to shape their digital identity has become increasingly crucial. A 2018 report from the Children's Commissioner for England revealed that, on average, a person in the U.K. will have approximately 70,000 posts shared about them online by the time they reach the age of 18.
Consider the impact of these numerous online posts on a child's online privacy and identity. Once something is shared on the internet, it lingers there forever, even if the original post is deleted. Among the many shared photos, some may not present children in the best light,
potentially causing embarrassment as they age. Furthermore, societal norms evolve, and what was seemed acceptable a decade ago may not be in the future.
One strong argument against sharenting is that children should have the right to curate their own digital identity and decide what aspects of their lives go online and what remains private.
To enjoy the positive aspects of social media while limiting the risks to your children, try using the following strategies:
1. Choose secure sharing methods: Instead of sharing your child's photos and videos on social media networks, use secure private (encrypted) instant messaging apps.
2. Limit who can see your posts. Avoid sharing photos of your child with all your social media followers. Create close groups with your family and close friends and ask them not to share images of your children online.
3. Turn off location services. Be careful to avoid taking pictures in places that could reveal your location, e.g., in front of their house or school and turn off location services on your phone/ apps.
4. Ask for consent from your child if they are old enough. Before publishing any photo or video of your child online, have a conversation with them and ensure you have their consent. Additionally, talk to the other parent and ask for their opinion.
5. Be Selective: If you choose to share images of your child, be discerning. Avoid posting certain photos or videos that could compromise your child's privacy (now or in the future), such as images in swimwear or during bath time. Consider hiding your child's face through techniques like taking photos from behind or adding emojis for protection.
6. Enhance your online account security: Adjust your social media accounts' privacy settings to limit the visibility of your posts. Restrict access to your content only to people you know, preventing strangers from viewing photos or videos of your children.
7. Regularly check if you've been involved in a data breach. Breaches can expose sensitive information about your family to hackers and identity thieves. Consider using a digital identity monitoring service like Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection, which instantly alerts you when your information is leaked on the internet. With a simple glance, you can assess your digital footprint, see who has information about you, and take one-click actions to secure any vulnerabilities.
Discover what the internet knows about you and your family with Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection.