Safeguarding Children’s Privacy in a Digital World

Friday, June 23rd, 2023 3:00 pm

Tips for parents related to "sharenting."

By Nate Fish, Founder of Footprint

Last week, my wife gave birth to a baby girl. I filmed the whole thing and basically haven’t stopped. Only a week into her life, my camera roll is quickly filling with images of her sleeping, crying, feeding, dreaming, her first time outside, her first time meeting her cousins, her first time at the doctor. The question is, what to do with all this content? Share it all? Hide it all? How do I package it up and not let my phone turn into a bottomless pit of fits and firsts?

I am one of the few parents who has an answer to this burning question. Years ago, long before we had our little girl, when my niece and nephew were born, I did what a lot of families do. I started email accounts to send photos and videos and messages for the kids to have when they’re older. That simple act over many years turned into what is now my professional pursuit in life, my startup, my other baby, Footprint.

Footprint is a mobile app for families to store and share important information for their kids in a safe, private place, then give it to them later as a gift. Since last week, for the first time as a parent and not as a founder, I am using Footprint. There are 28 members in her account, letters from family, slideshows of my wife’s bump growing one week at a time, and of her labor, and, of course, pictures and videos of our baby’s first week. It’s pretty great. We get to share all the content with family, organize it, and know one day our daughter will receive it all as a gift. But that’s not really what I am here to talk about, to brag that the app does all the things you’d want it to do. I am here to ask you one question…

If you were a kid today, would you want your parents sharing your content on social media, or would you want them to keep it private and give it to you one day to inherit and control yourself?

I wish I could say, all those years ago when I started working on Footprint, that I knew digital privacy for kids would be a mainstream issue heading into the 2024 presidential election, but the truth is, I didn’t. The various problems that come from your child’s face, birthdate, voice, school, home, and more being smattered about the internet had never even crossed my mind. I just wanted to make a cool gift for my niece and nephew. But the more I read and learned, the more I realized a generation of kids are growing up to be hurt and embarrassed, or worse, that their lives were overshared with strangers online, known as “sharenting”.

I get it. We are in love with and proud of our daughter. We want to share her with the world. And one very easy way to do that would be by posting her on social media. But because I know what I know, what more and more people are starting to realize, it’s just not a good idea. There are implications to sharing your kids’ information online that simply do not occur to us. By the time they’re old enough to start their own social media accounts or email addresses, there will be thousands of images of our kids online leaving an enduring trail of information about them for whoever wants it.

I wish this was all over-protective parental paranoia about the internet, but it’s not. In 2018, Braclays did a study that found by the year 2030, two-thirds of identity fraud cases will be a result of parents sharing their children’s information online. So here are some ways to keep kids’ information and identity safe.

  • When you post your kids on social media, don’t share too much information – avoid sharing, middle and last name, birthdate, medical conditions, where they go to school, or where you live.
  • Look for private solutions. Try to create a private group of caring people to share with so you get the excitement of documenting your childrens’ accomplishments without sharing with strangers. 
  • Talk about it. When the kids are old enough, start a conversation about media and technology. There should be an ongoing dialogue about what you want and what they are comfortable with so there is no conflict in the future. 
  • Assume the worst. It sounds horrible to say, but we know enough about the large tech platforms by now to know the terms and conditions are not in our favor. Before uploading images and sharing information, assume you are forfeiting rights to those images and that the companies can use them for whatever purposes they want.

And finally, 

  • Ask yourself THE question: “What would I want?” We have to remember, our kids have (or will have) their own lives. They deserve the agency to decide if and how they will use social media for themselves. If we were kids today, I think we would want the same consideration. 

Nate Fish is the founder and CEO of Footprint, a first-of-its-kind mobile app that allows families to store and share feelings, memories, and important information for their children, then give it to them later as a gift. In addition to his new role as a tech founder, Nate is the head coach of Team Israel which competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and has previously coached for the LA Dodgers. With a degree from New School University in New York with a focus on creative writing, he has also since founded the independent publishing company, Brick of Gold, and has published several magazine features and books, in addition to having had two solo exhibitions of visual art in New York City. 

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

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