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We've set up a Twitter account for our daughter so that interested people (friends, relatives, old ladies) can follow her, find out what she's doing and see how adorable she is. My sister heard this and started panicking over how safe it was going to be, and seemed to have a haunting nameless fear she couldn't articulate.

Are there genuine risks to posting your baby photos online? If so, what are they, and what can you do to mitigate the risks?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Wish I could comment on some of the other answers, but I'm a noob, so I can't...

Anyway, there's absolutely nothing wrong with posting your pictures, your names, all of it.

Continuing to promote "stranger danger" and god-forbid-someone-gets-teased and god-forbid-someone-finds-out-about-our-mistakes philosophies is really just silly. Let's get over all that and start teaching our kids to be sensible.

Yes, people are going to laugh at their baby pictures. They're probably pretty cute. Yes, some strangers can be dangerous. But most strangers are interesting, and some are even enlightening. And, god forbid someone else actually might learn from my mistakes. If I'm not ready to laugh about mistakes and follies, then that's a problem with me, not a problem with them or a problem with the fact that my mistake was shared.

Teach judgement, teach correctability, teach adaptability, be a good example, move on, have a good time. And most of all, share it with everyone.

Good luck!

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+1, & This is likely to end up being the accepted one, as it's got the risks in, but is more in tune with my feelings on them. Possibly it's generational, but I personally am unworried about people I know seeing my baby photos. The bullies who genuinely get under your skin don't use 6-year old baby photos you can blame your parents for, they go for the embarrassing things you do without thinking, or just making something up. I personally was teased for 3 years about supposedly being in love with a fictional pink hedgehog. Being a baby at one point would have been much easier to ignore somehow. –  deworde May 10 '12 at 21:21
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Now granted, my child may not share my opinion, but it can be added to the list of stuff your teenager blames you for. –  deworde May 10 '12 at 21:22
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I have to say Im not at all fond of this answer. Once those photos are free in the public/search engine domain you have lost all control to ever rein them back in - why do that? There are sites (eg SmugMug) that cater to having complete control over sharing photos (by blocking exposure to search engines, option for albums to be private, options for albums to be locked down etc) - you would be MUCH better off using one those and really limiting access (by people and search engines) to this kind of material. –  Ricibob May 14 '12 at 22:46
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I also disagree with this post. It doesn't answer the question. One can't be aware of all the implications of an online post because posts are linked in a concept web that is still developing. This is because of how search works on the internet. I elaborate in a separate answer, below. –  5un5 Dec 18 '12 at 16:20
    
-1: This post does not really answer the question, but just ignores the risks in favor of a "Let's see what happens!" approach. There are risks, and it should be up to each individual to determine whether or not they care about those risks. –  mmr Dec 19 '12 at 0:05

My policy is, you can post pictures without a name, or a name without a picture, but never together. Why? Because nothing can ever be removed from the Internet ever.

It bugs me when people tag pictures of me with my name, or mention my kids online (but not enough to nag them about it). Information about me is mine to disclose or not, and I resent the fact that it's possible to build big businesses based on the sale and resale of a corpus of personal details that only grows over time (and over which I have no control).

Anyone born after today will always be tracked like this. It is difficult enough for kids to learn their way in the world and make mistakes, but if your mistakes can't ever be forgotten then they will always be hanging over your head.

And kids can be terrible to each other. An adult wouldn't mind it, but if one kid finds the baby pictures of another one online, they can and will be used for teasing. My daughter's middle school principal wrote a piece earlier this year about Facebook. He ended it by mentioning how many disputes that start on Facebook or other social media intrude on school time, and that he wastes a lot of time mediating them.

Sorry for ranting, but this issue gets my hackles up. Start the little ones out right. :7)

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Maybe I'm missing it, but I don't think this answers the question. If you don't like pictures of yourself or your kids posted online, that's fine, but what is the actual risk of doing so? I don't buy the teasing thing; kids have been teasing each other since long before the internet was invented, and even if they don't have baby pictures of your kid they'll find other things to tease each other about. You say "Anyone born after today will always be tracked like this." So what is it you're trying to protect against? –  Graeme Perrow May 15 '12 at 19:52
    
Forget future teasing. What about identity theft? Name and birth date, parents and siblings names. Seems pretty risky to put all of that together in one place. –  KitFox Dec 18 '12 at 17:05

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic:

What are the risks?

  • Some freaks collect pictures for their own weird purposes. That's despicable but at least the real-life risk to your kids is so small as to be nonexistent.
  • A bigger concern is, as has been said, schoolmates that use the pics for taunting and harassment. This can be really problematic and is the biggest reason to have only recent pictures online, if any at all.
  • Your kids might disagree with your photo selection or commentary (now, or later). Either stick to your decision, or pull back.

What can be done?
You didn't ask this but because you and others have mentioned specific sites, I'm going to chime in too.

  • Twitter is totally public by design. If privacy is a concern, consider a different platform.
  • Facebook posts can be limited to a certain audience, but they have a pretty shaky history of putting privacy last.
  • Google+ is a young platform and has yet to prove itself. The biggest problem is that most of your friends probably aren't there, and they won't want to add another social network to their life. Pity; it would be perfectly suited to your purpose, imho, because you can limit your audience and prevent re-sharing.
  • A blog is impractical because you can't limit your audience, except by handing out individual logins which is too cumbersome for the recipients; they probably won't bother.
  • One fact is true for all systems: You're putting control of your pictures in the hands of others. Some (companies, users) might be trusted, some might not. It's your call. Once you put something digital into the great big Internet, you can't ever take it out again.
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+1 because it lays out the risks clearly and sensibly, with the caveats. But actually, I'd say Twitter's got adequate protection, and has the highly handy idiom that past data is less important and harder to retrieve. –  deworde May 10 '12 at 21:16

One thing that is possible, and happens often enough to be disturbing, is that someone may take your pictures and use them in marketing materials without your approval.

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+1 for interesting point no-one else has made. –  deworde May 12 '12 at 12:57
    
That'd be awesome. Think of all the money you could make by suing their pants off! –  jpatokal Dec 28 '12 at 5:39

There is always a risk with anything you do online. We have had a website for our family for eight years for the same reasons you list. Here are some precautions that we take.

We don't use last names at all, ever. We don't label the pictures in any way. We don't advertise our website through email or other online modes of comunication. We directly gave the site address to those we wanted to have it and we told them NOT TO share it.

With twitter I believe you can make it private so only invites can follow your daughter.

I would go ahead with it, it is important to share with family and friends, however, I would limit the number of friends.

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I get the reasoning behind controlled access, but what's the rationale for the labelling ban. –  deworde May 9 '12 at 19:12
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@deworde probably so search engines like Google won't associate the two together –  yydl May 9 '12 at 21:34
    
Right, they only value data that correlates with other data. –  Will E. May 10 '12 at 1:44

About.com listed some of the risks of posting your baby's photos online are:

  1. if your baby's photo is used with other means without your permission. There is a story of a girl who found out that her photo was used for a mobile company halfway around the world without her permission. Another family also found out that their family picture was used as a storefront ad in another country
  2. Some also worry about their privacy, like some people (pedophile) might get interested in their child and hunt him or her (This may or may not happen but parents need to be concerned).

What to do to mitigate the risks:

  1. If your concerned about your privacy - make the photos private and share it only with friends or families, like give them private links which they can follow
  2. Read the terms of service of the site before posting - there are some sites which when you post photos, you are automatically granting permission to other sites to use your photos
  3. dont give full information, like your name,address and so on, so you will not easily be located by people who dont know you
  4. Avoid posting pics that will embarass your kids afterwards

http://familyinternet.about.com/od/computingsafetyprivacy/a/Safe_to_post_photos_of_kids_online.htm

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1 - is this a risk? Can you explain what the risk is. It may breach fair use laws, but what is the risk to you/your baby. and 2) the real risk of this is much much lower than the risk of your neighbour hunting them - do you ban your neighbour looking into your garden? –  Rory Alsop Dec 14 '12 at 9:02
    
+ 1 for risk identification. Some may or may not care about said risks, but thinking about them is useful. –  NWS Dec 14 '12 at 9:11

The main risk is that when you post, you are aware of the present context and can't link it to the future-- because the future doesn't exist yet. But computers can. Computer software can link a person's identity, the image of their face or name to every concept (website, blogpost tag, other people, ideas they express, actions they take, etc) they are seen with past or present. Facial recognition software can link all the pictures of a person to each other, and to the concepts they are linked to.

Computers are great at search, and great at storing links between information. Computers can make concept webs that link ideas, faces, names. Here's one example of a man who realized the story of his life could be drawn with pure data he wasn't trying to tell his story with.

Even if you are careful to never post your picture with your name, if one of your friends does once, the pictures can be linked with the names.

So, in summary, the risk is that you're telling a story that you can't see as you tell it. You're creating connections that allow agencies access to information that you or your child may not want them to have in the future. The fine print about the sites' "privacy" policy also changes over time. Even so, most sites maintain the right to share your data with agencies that your (future) child may not consent to.

This makes the risks hard to see, because we can't see the links between the data. But your child's future employers, partners, friends, and coworkers may have access to them.

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