November 1, 2010 in Features

Over-exposed baby photos can hurt later

Online sharing could have unfortunate consequences
Kristin Tillotson Minneapolis Star Tribune
 

Immortalizing your newborn baby’s footprint in bronze as a keepsake might be a long-cherished tradition, but another kind of imprint has become much more popular – the digital kind.

If you’re an American parent of a toddler, he or she most likely already has a digital footprint. A popular new baby gift is registering children’s full names as domain names so they can own them for the rest of their lives.

A whopping 92 percent of kids now have some sort of online presence by age 2, according to one recent study. Moms and dads post endless streams of photos on Facebook. Seven percent of babies even have their own e-mail addresses.

But is this display of parental pride an invasion of privacy that can hurt kids down the road?

Media strategist Bonnie Harris, whose St. Paul company Wax Marketing advises clients on integrating new and traditional media, is hardly immune: She admits that her dog Bart (bartthedog) has almost 4,000 Twitter followers, a popular Facebook page and a blog.

“But he’s a dog,” she says. “Unlike kids, he can’t be cyber-bullied when he gets into middle school because of then-cute, now-embarrassing pictures I posted of him as a baby.

“His photos probably won’t be used for advertising without my knowledge, or for something possibly illicit in another part of the world. If it takes a long time to potty-train him, some employer down the road won’t find that in a background check and think he’s slow.”

Harris also says parents who become advocates for causes such as autism or diabetes after their children are diagnosed have essentially “outed” their kids without the children’s permission.

Her advice to parents on what’s appropriate regarding posts about their children: Imagine that he or she will one day run for president.

“There’s no reason to be super-paranoid, but don’t post any pictures you wouldn’t want any stranger in the world to see and use for their own purposes,” she says. “Privacy settings are not foolproof.”

Also remember that as technology advances, so do future employers’ abilities to conduct exhaustive background searches.

“Right now, we only really have to go back maybe 12, 15 years at the most,” she says. “I’m cringing at the thought of 20 years from now having to make sure there aren’t any incriminating YouTube videos from little Johnny’s trip to the corn maze back in 2010.”

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