Many parents love to share pictures of their little ones online so that family and friends can see how they are growing up. But unfortunately grandmas and your best friends aren't the only people on the Internet. There are some scary people out there who want to use those cute snapshots of your children for their own purposes. Here are just some of the ways your children's photos are being used online and why you should think twice before posting your child's photos for the whole world to see.
A new trend on social media, baby-role playing involves users posting a photo of a baby or child they find online and pretending the photo is of their child. This has especially become popular on Instagram, but it crops up on other social media sites as well. Some of these users are creating entire fictional families as they pretend to be the parent of a child or children who aren't really theirs. They post about things the baby is doing or how cute they are, and then their followers play along by commenting on the photos. There are even Instagram accounts that will post a photo of a child with his or her made-up information, pretending the child is available for adoption. Do a search for hashtags like #babyrp, #kidrp, #openrp, or #adoptionrp and you will see thousands of these posts. And while there is no actual physical danger to your child if someone uses one of your photos for role-playing, it's still disturbing to think someone might be digitally kidnapping your child.
Innocent family photos can also be taken from blogs, social media accounts, or other photo-sharing sites and photoshopped to give pedophiles a thrill. Other times the photos themselves aren't doctored, but are posted with other inappropriate content, captions or comments that lead to links of child pornography. One mother in Utah recently found pictures of her two young daughters together with captions implying extremely disturbing situations. Especially enticing are photos where a user can make eye-contact with their victims or where there is partial nudity, like a bath or diaper photo.
Would you want your child's picture used to promote a product without your permission? Unfortunately, some advertisers will take photos they find on the Internet and use them in ad campaigns in another part of the world. That's what happened to one family whose photo was used in a store ad in the Czech Republic. It also horrified another mom when a picture of her daughter, who has Down Syndrome, was stolen from her blog and used to advertize a prenatal testing kit. It happened to a teenager from Texas who had her photo snapped at a church activity and ended up on a billboard in Australia and a family in Indonesia whose children ended up in a newspaper ad in Malaysia. Fortunately for all these people, someone spotted the ad and told them about it. But how many pictures are being used for ads that the people pictured never find out about? For all you know, your child could be on an ad somewhere right now.
If you've spent any time on social media, you know there are a lot of profiles and accounts that are not real. These fake profiles are used for a number of different purposes, but it's most often to scam other people. Those who create them often use stolen images because they are believable and give credence to their profiles. Which means your real photos could be used to make another profile seem real even though it is not. This issue is common enough that reporting an imposter account shows up in Facebook's frequently asked questions. And unfortunately there's not a lot you can do since all profile and cover photos on Facebook are public.
Post a funny picture of one of your children, and he or she might become an Internet sensation. That's what happened to one mom when she posted a picture of her daughter acting angry in a swing, and it turned into a viral meme. But even if some people thinks it's funny, if it's done without your permission, it's no laughing matter. And once it's out there, it's pretty hard to delete something that has been shared by multiple users on multiple sites.
What can you do?
Does this all mean you should never post pictures of your children online or you should immediately delete every social media account you have? No! The odds of these things happening to your photos are still pretty slim when you consider the billions of social media users and photos out there. But it does mean you should be careful when posting photos and information about yourself and your children on the Internet. Here are some ideas for protecting your photos and reducing the risk of them being misused.
Make it private - If you're going to post pictures of your children that you don't want people using for other purposes, you can make your accounts or your photos private. Each site has it's different ways of doing this, but here's an infographic that tells you how to do it on the most popular social media sites. Also make sure your blog is private if you are planning on posting photos of your children.
Be careful about who you share with - In addition to going private, sites like Facebook and Flickr allow you to choose the audience for your photos. You don't have to share everything with all of your friends. You can share pictures of your children with only your closest friends and family.
Watermark your photos - Placing a watermark on the photos you post online can help you prove images are yours if they are stolen. It also discourages people from stealing your photos because it's more work for them to remove a watermark. There are several low-cost apps available that watermark photos.
Don't share your location - Never post a picture of your child that identifies your location. Turn off location settings on your phone and don't post pictures that would help someone identify where you are or where you live.
Post low-resolution photos - Posting lower-resolution versions of your photos makes it hard for someone to enlarge and print your pictures, which makes them unusable for things like advertisements.
Be selective about the photos you share - Photos of children are much less likely to be stolen by predators or baby-role players if they include other people, if the child isn't looking straight into the camera, and if the children are fully clothed.
Even with these precautions, there is still a chance that your photos could be misused, so always think twice before you post anything that you wouldn't want stolen.