Do you publish photographs of your children online?

Look around you at the different photographs that make up the distinctive design of my blog (if you’re reading the RSS feed, just this once click on this link — GoFatherhood! — so you can see what I’m talking about). Maybe it seems a bit odd for me to write about whether or not to publish pictures of your children online when I have a Web site design that’s built around photos of my own children.

But look again.

What do you notice? If you said “I can’t see any faces, other than yours”, you’re right. That was a primary design goal when my graphics guy and I spent weeks and weeks working on what you see.

Lots of other parents, both mommy and daddy bloggers, seem to have a far more laissez faire approach, not just including pictures of their children on their sites, but often having lovely close-ups that would make it trivial for a reader to pick out the child from a crowd.

Which leads me to the question: is this a good idea, or am I paranoid?

I dunno, maybe I’m just behind the times and privacy really is dead (as Bill Joy said) and I should just take a proverbial chill pill.

I mean, go to Google Images and search for family (pictures | portraits | picture) and you’ll find that it finds 242,000,000 matching images in its database.

242 million pictures.

And yet, it’s just a matter of a few seconds to dig up close-up pictures of children, full family portraits, and even baby pics. Click on one of those images and you usually end up on the writer or photographer’s Web site which all too frequently has personally identifying information.

I was going to demonstrate how easy it was to go from a picture of a cute kid to figuring out what town they lived in and, in many cases, what school they attend, but then I got a bit freaked and decided it was probably a bad idea.

My take is that the vast majority of people online are nice human beings who enjoy learning more about other people’s families. For them, I don’t mind sharing a picture or two of my children. But they’re not who worries me. What I’m concerned about is the tiny subset, the 0.01% of Internet users, who aren’t so benign and are just trouble.

Even if it’d only be one person who came across this blog every two years, that’s one person too many, it’s someone who I don’t want seeing pictures of my kids, even though I am giving up a lot of privacy by blogging about parenting and my family.

Am I paranoid? Many Mommy bloggers and Daddy bloggers seem to disagree with my concerns entirely, sharing daily photographic updates of their children along with highly detailed summaries of their day’s activities.

I still can’t help worrying, though. My kids are more precious than the richest jewels and I’d never want to put them at risk, but I do try to balance that against my desire to share my experiences as a parent here on this weblog. And so, my compromise is that I do not post photos of my children such that they’re recognizable, and I don’t use their full names, just first initials (like K-).

Let me ask you, reader: do you blog or otherwise write online? If so, do you write about your children using their full names? Do you publish photos of them on your blog, on Flickr, or elsewhere? Are you concerned about privacy?

Thanks for sharing. Just want to seed some conversation on this topic.

26 comments on “Do you publish photographs of your children online?

  1. Yes, you are paranoid and you cannot stop nasties seeing your children unless you stop them ever going out. They are all around you whether you like it or not, and they win because you alter your behaviour way too much to deal with them – and that alteration does NOT stop things happening. Protect your children by giving them the tools to live in the modern world – not live in the 19th century.

  2. I don’t think you’re being paranoid. I think it’s important to keep pictures and names separate online, at the very least.
    But then again, my dad’s job is internet security and I *know* he’s paranoid. I’m only just a step below that. 😉

  3. Dave, I don’t think you’re paranoid. It’s wise to give pause and consideration about things where potential safety risks exist. Just because we ‘can’ do something, doesn’t necessarily mean we ‘should’ (10 points for the movie quote!). If you deem the potential risk of posting a picture of your children online to be greater than the value of doing such, then by all means don’t.
    That said, think about this, though. Your name is well-known, and it’s pretty easy to discern what town you live in from your various online activities. Given that, I’m sure I could find where you live. Thanks to google map’s street view, I could see what your home looks like. From there I could…
    My point is that there’s enough information about *you*, the fact that you have kids, and even when they’re visiting you – out here on the web that anyone with bad intent could carry a nefarious plan. Pictures are immaterial.

  4. I personally don’t publish anything specific about my children or their activities. When I decided to publish and leave open my own photo, thoughts and feelings, personal history and probably way too much contact information; it was my call, my considered choice. I believe that children too should have that choice, and make it at a time and place they choose.
    My 3 children aged 18-9 are all very active on the web and all make their own choices about what they publish. What I have noticed most is that they are all very savvy with little guidance from their parents about what they show and tell and where.
    Here’s the thing; it is not for me about the .01% of dubious characters out there, life is a numbers game, it can be a lottery. I protect my children but hate to cocoon them.
    So with that all said I do wonder about risk minimization when I see children pictured, with their mothers invariably, on dating sites?
    Or as you noted stories with names dates and places and more on Blogs(mostly for profit), when just the parable would work equally well.
    Paranoid no, risk reduction yes, Most important is my child’s right to choose without prompting or coercion. Their right to anonymity in the future.

  5. Since you brought up the word paranoia, I don’t feel it’s insulting to say that I do think you’re being a little paranoid. Not a lot paranoid, just a little. Do you have any statistics on crimes (or even just uncomfortable situations) caused by someone seeing a picture of a child online? You mentioned the 0.01% of users out there – but I suspect that’s not an actual statistic (and that’s okay, hyperbole is an important writing tool). To me, your level of paranoia will be more accurately defined by how you react to the actual statistics, not by what you suspect they might be.
    We are constantly inundated with reports of kids getting into trouble because of the internet – child predators are lurking behind every bush according to the media. South Park did a great episode lampooning that notion. I think that knowing the real risks will help to combat this – child predators haven’t suddenly started springing up because of the internet, and personally, I’d rather they be sitting at home looking at Google Images than sitting in a van outside of a school.
    I’d be willing to bet that the odds of your kids getting hit by a car are greater than the odds of your kids getting into some sort of internet predator related situation – and I’m also willing to bet that you won’t stop your kids from ever crossing a street 😉

  6. As a dad of two young children and being professional photographer, this is indeed a predicament. I do post images of my kids and my client’s kids online but only use their first names. If a client insists on not using a name at all or not blogging the images on my site, I will wholeheartedly grant them that wish. Privacy is important to me and especially for my clients.

  7. Dave I completely agree with you on this and only have posted photos with my children in them rarely. I also only use the first letter of their first name when referring to them in posts or tweets. Beyond the safety factor is the desire to let them make their own choices about what personal information is online.

  8. I do put a lot of videos up of my kids on a public youtube account. When I had it private, grandma and other non-tech friends found it too tough to see stuff (registering, remembering login details a month later, etc.). The point is to keep in touch with family overseas, and I need to be able to just send then an easy URL to click on.
    But I DON’T include names, descriptions, or notes on any videos. Don’t even change the file names most of the time.
    Your column did make me think though that I’ve got to set up a separate Youtube channel for business/professional and personal. The work videos would lead people to our hometown, address, etc.

  9. I think everyone has their own personal threshold as to what they’ll post or not post. It’s not so much paranoia as cautiousness, in my view.
    It’s interesting to see how different people’s thresholds are. I don’t have a problem with posting photos of my children or their names, but I absolutely will *not* put my full surname on line – the reverse of the decisions you’ve made with regard to those points! (That said – neither of my children is yet at the age of going out alone, and my feeling is that I won’t be happy posting pictures of them once they *do* reach that age.)
    My own limits: I will not use our surname, and I am extremely careful about any information that could give clues as to our location. My blog’s ‘About’ page just says that I’m in England – it used to give a general area but I deleted that bit. As well as not posting the area or town, I try to avoid posting any information that could give any clues as to where we are within the town in case anyone did figure out where the town is. Oh, and I don’t post in advance when we’re planning to take trips away or when we are away, because I don’t like advertising that the house is empty.

  10. You are so right to be concerned. I also right a blog and talk about parenting and kids, but I don’t put my kids pictures on there. I don’t even use their names.
    Schools, camps and churches all have websites now and fortunately most of them require a parent’s permission before posting a child’s picture. I never give it. Anyone would know exactly where to go to see the child.
    I’m super proud of my kids and thrilled to share pictures with close family and friends, but on the web you are exposed to everyone: the good, the bad and the ugly. Even if the chance that something would happen is small, I am not willing to take that chance with my precious children.

  11. I have a distributed extended family all over the world, and the best way to keep them updated on my kids development, growth, funnies, etc is to take our photos online. Both my kids have blogs that I created – digital natives that they are who may one day thank me for recording their life. That said, I never reveal their names, location, or any other identity information on their blogs, so they have some anonymity from the big bad world of creeps out there – and to be honest, my direct extended family are the only folks who ever leave comments or visit regularly.
    In the participation age, we all have the right to decide to contribute/publish or not, but in the absence of being to make those decisions ourselves (as is the case with my youngsters) I made the decision for them for the larger benefit and joy of our whole family. I’ve done it in such a way that would never compromise their well-being and my protection of it.

  12. Its that whole personal choice thing.
    My father works with many dangerous peoples as their psychologist and one thing he discovered is the more you hide the more interest you create.
    I feel that if a person really wants to find out about you they will no matter how hard you try to hide….and because you are on the net and you are talking about what you talk about someone may want to find out about you and they will.
    We live in the world of information that can be found.
    I think the older my children get the less I will use photos… As they will change so much from their baby photos.
    Just because we don’t talk about our children use their names or photos does not mean that people will not find a way to look at them…even if we were not on the net people will still look if they find an interest in you.

  13. simply put- just keep your family blogs marked private for close friends and family. Strangers have no reason to view your personal photos nor personal remarks.

  14. I do blog. I have both a personal blog and a parenting blog, and I do post pictures on my personal blog (not so much on the parenting blog). My attitude towards the Internet and the information available has drastically changed over the last six months. Around six months ago, I stumbled upon an article (linked below) that discusses the Internet and how it has changed the way kids do everything. It made me realize that I needed to change some of my attitudes so that I’d be better prepared when my baby isn’t a baby anymore. Hence my blogging started. (So I’m just an infant blogger.)
    It’s true that even though I don’t use last names and I don’t specifically mention in which state I live, you could probably figure it all out. It’s also true that with pictures you know what my family and I look like. But people who are motivated always find a way. I’m hoping that as my little munchkin grows up, my husband and I can teach her how to protect herself against predators (Internet photos or no).
    Great Article Regarding the Internet:

  15. I have to say I feel the same way. It is way too easy for some pervert to go online and check out pictures of kids. Gross. Especially on the cloth diapering forum I frequent. I can only imagine how many sick people go to sites like that. Its disturbing.

  16. I don’t think you’re being paranoid entirely. There ARE of course lots of bad people out there, and yes, if they want to find you or your family, they will no matter what you post on the ‘net. But there’s no reason to just GIVE them that information. I think it’s okay to post some pictures, but I don’t think it’s necessary to post details, even names.

  17. I agree with you. While researching schools and homeschooling, I have been able to find out far more details of other people than they realise just by reading their blogs and their forum postings. The realisation made me lock up my own blog! 🙂

  18. I am having this discussion with another person right now and just do not understand the “fear”. If a person knows your name and that you have kids it is pretty easy to track you, and them down. Putting or not putting a picture up changes nothing.
    – Predator Tracks Child Down Based on Internet Photo –
    Can you find one example of this ever actually happening? I do not remember ever seeing a “To Catch a Predator” episode where anything other than something like MySpace or AIM was used and… it was the kids (NOT the parents) that put themselves at risk. I have never seen an instance where a predator picks some child at random, on the internet, and track them down.
    The odds that someone will molest your child favor Family… then Friends.. then Neighbors. They only way I could imagine that someone would go out of there way for YOUR kid is if hey had some sort of personal vendetta against YOU.
    I have looked though many lists like this one and can find no such occurrence.
    I was molested as a child and told my Mom right away. My mother listened to my story and took me to the police. It turned out the the local community “nice guy” was having his way with a lot of neighborhood boys… for years.
    Be a proud parent. Teach your kids to talk to you. Be aware. But not posting pictures up because it makes you feel safer. Sorry, not buying it.

  19. I don’t think posting pictures of your family is a bad thing or something you need to worry about. It’s the information that is available that people need to be careful about. You should not post any of your personal information, or you’re just asking for trouble (ID Theft for 1). People who look on the website with bad intentions do not spend a lot of time trying to find information. If your blog doesn’t contain full names, address, etc then they’ll move on. This is why our blog has no peronal info. Every now and then a post may refer to a person or place, but that’s it. Basically, don’t put on your blog your full name, address, place of work, ages, etc etc etc…never put this information on line

  20. I agree with you, don’t show faces or give any details, how can we teach our children not to give out personal information on social sites if we’re doing it on their account?

  21. I am trying to determine the actual risk here. What could happen? We have to determine what could happen and spell that out before trying to protect against it.
    As mentioned above, if somebody just had it out for Dave’s, because they were Dave’s kids, well, they could find his house and done deal. The lack of photos of them online does not matter too much. That is just one scenario, though.
    Do not want photos of your children being used in child pornography? Well, I doubt any photos we put up would be.
    I have been thinking a lot about this issue lately when I (as a photographer) was asked to remove some shots of a friend’s children from a website. I did, out of respect, but I just cannot figure out what the real life danger is. Maybe I am just not savvy in the ways of the world, but could you all help me out a little here?

  22. i dont think you are paranoid at all. Although there are many people in my family that have pictures of my children, any photos that i have on line, are ones without being close-ups. They are pictures distanced while they are wearing costumes, sunglasses, hats ect. I think that people such as ourselves, who are just looking to be a support to other parents and support for ourselves cant even fathom how easy it is for that one creep to find your info. You cant even imagine how easy it is for a picture to lead things to places you wouldn’t want people to know. If that wasn’t the case, then there wouldn’t be so much identity theft and child abductions. much luck to you and your family.

  23. Definitely not paranoid… I belong to an online forum for a kids clothing brand. A lot of the mom’s do fashion shows of their kids as each new line comes out. A couple of weeks ago, one of the mom’s discovered a photo of someone’s daughter being used to sell clothing on a Chinese ebay-type site. No permission granted, just totally picked up from the forum pages and used to sell clothing on the other side of the world. Pretty scary stuff. Fortunately the mother succeeded in getting them to take the photo down. Goodness knows what other creeps lurk on these sites and steal kids photos for who knows what. It just proves that nothing posted online is really secure.

  24. I recommend reading “Free Range Parenting.” It’s a wonderful balancing perspective for Attachment Parents. I tend to agree with the comments where it’s more of an urban myth and statistically less of a risk than many other “normal” activities with our children. It was very interesting to read everyone’s thoughts; many good points.

  25. Interesting post. I stumbled upon it. In general anything to do with risk/paranoia on the internet has nothing to do with someone picking out the kid in a crowd (IMO). I would probably not do it only because it is like Credit History, something I write on the internet never goes away…
    I don’t know what/how things are going to be like in the next 20 years. I see no point in leaving electronic traces that are possibly never erased. That includes everything that could lead someone to the kid definitively. Unfortunately since *Everything* is pretty hard to cover, its better to not do any sharing.

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