It’s become a staple of our social media feeds: the back-to-school photo. Often the kids in the pictures—smiling on a front step, full of excitement—are holding a sign showing their name, grade, and school. It’s a milestone moment, worthy of a photo, and invariably sweet.
Posting these pics is understandable, but it’s also risky. In an age of mass data-collection and tracking (and less often but more alarming, cyber-stalking), these posts offer up a trove of personal data about the beaming children in the frame. It may be time to ask yourself, Is this a good idea?
Before you post a back-to-school photo, here are some points to consider.
- Personal Information Exposure: Details like the name of the school, grade level, teacher’s name, and the child’s name can be shared more widely than you might like. In the hands of the wrong person, that information can be used to harass, bully, or stalk.
- Location Tracking: If location services are enabled on the device taking the picture, the exact coordinates of the school or home could be embedded in the image metadata, which could potentially be accessed by others.
- Potential for Bullying or Shaming: Once pictures are online, they can be accessed, shared, or even misused by others. This can lead to potential cyberbullying situations or body-shaming.
- Child Predators: Sharing images of children can inadvertently attract the attention of child predators. Knowing specific details about a child can make it easier for a predator to approach a child under a false pretense.
- Digital Footprint: Every image posted online contributes to a child’s digital footprint. As they grow older, they may not appreciate having so much of their life documented and made easily accessible to the public. What’s more, this information is invaluable to advertisers, and helps them build a profile of the people in the photo and direct ads to them.
- Identity Theft: Details shared in photos, combined with other information available online, can be used to commit identity fraud.
- Potential for Viral Sharing: Once a picture is online, it’s nearly impossible to control its distribution. A seemingly innocent photo could be shared, memed, or even go viral without the consent or knowledge of the family.
- Peer Privacy: Photos might not only show your child but also their peers. Other parents might have different views on online privacy, and sharing photos that include their children without permission could be problematic.
To mitigate these risks, parents who still want to share their back-to-school pictures can take several precautions:
- Adjust privacy settings: Ensure that pictures are shared only with a select group of trusted friends and family, rather than posting them publicly.
- Limit personal information: Avoid including specific details about the school, teacher’s name, etc., in the photo or caption.
- Check metadata: Before uploading, strip the photo of metadata that might include location data.
- Get consent: Before posting photos that include other children, ask for permission from their parents.
Sharing exciting moments like back-to-school is natural for proud parents. Revel in it while your kids are still young and willing to pose for photos. But it’s essential that parents be aware of the potential risks.associated with posting pictures online and to take steps to protect children’s privacy and safety.