17% of parents ignore privacy settings but still post hundreds of photos of kids online

Parents upload 973 photos of kids on social media before they hit 5

Parents upload 973 photos of kids on social media before they hit 5The average parent is like a loving but voracious paparazzi, uploading an eyeball-popping 973 photos of their child on social media by the time he or she reaches the age of 5.

That’s the news coming out of online safety site The Parent Zone, which did some research on the subject of children and privacy on behalf of safety campaign knowthenet.

To all the oversharing parents out there, we have to point out, this is not necessarily safe behaviour.

After all, social media has become a bastion of doxing, clickjacking and phishing – a venue that the IC3 has warned is increasingly crawling with cyber vipers.

Unfortunately, many parents are apparently somewhat oblivious to the privacy and security implications of what they’re doing to their kids.

In fact, the study found that 17% of parents have never checked their Facebook privacy settings at all, while almost half (46%) have only checked once or twice, despite Facebook being the number one spot for sharing kid pics.

The research involved polling 2000 parents about how they share images of children online, as well as testing them on their knowledge of the information captured when they take pictures on different devices, such as the location data that’s stored in photos.

Just ask the kitty-stalking Owen Mundy about that type of data: about a year ago, the data analyst/artist/associate professor gathered up photos of cats from images online, the privacy settings for which made APIs publicly available on sites like Flickr, Twitpic, Instagram or the like.

Then he geolocated the pussycats, and he published a map showing where the cats lived.

You could easily swap out cats for kids, and the creepiness of being able to trace a child’s photo to his or her address would truly sink in.

But the child privacy study found that despite 70% of parents claiming that their main gadget for taking photos was a mobile phone, fewer than half (49%) were aware that location data showing where photos were taken could be stored.

Many parents also mistakenly believe that they own the rights to their photos.

39% of those polled reported believing that they own the sole rights to images posted on Facebook, and 17% think the same for Instagram.

In fact, the terms and conditions for both of those sites, as well as other social media platforms, state that the companies have the right to use uploaded images to promote their services without explicitly asking the permission of the person that uploaded the photo.

More findings from the study:

  • 53% of parents report having uploaded images of their kids to Facebook. Instagram followed with 14%, while 12% of parents upload kid pictures to Twitter.
  • 25% of parents confess to never asking the permission of the people in photos before posting them.
  • 53% of parents have uploaded a photo of a child that wasn’t their own. That’s going to make for some unhappy kids, given that almost a third of parents admitted their child had prevented a photo of them from being uploaded.

The massive digital footprint we’re creating for our children before they have a say in the matter could well come back to haunt us.

A few years ago, Amy Webb wrote a piece for Slate titled We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online.

Why the cold shoulder when it comes to sharing her offspring online?

Because “it’s the only way to defend her against facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining”, she wrote.

Naked Security subsequently ran a poll asking readers if posting photos of your child on Facebook makes you a bad parent.

Most of you – 72% – answered, quite reasonably, “No, but I’m careful about what information I post about my children.”


After they grow up, I’m sure children will thank those of us who use care in what we post, particularly given that they’ve been granted the possibility of growing up without entering adulthood as a preformed, facially recognisable, social media-profiled target of corporate data mining.

Granted, there’s some selection bias in there, for sure: those who regularly read infosec blogs would tend to check privacy settings, wouldn’t they?

But we all likely know parents who don’t bother – the 17% who, the study reports, don’t check privacy settings.

If you’d like to pass on some tips for those people in your life who could use a bit of a primer on protecting children’s privacy online, here are some from knowthenet.org.uk:

  • Check your privacy settings.
    Take a look at your social network’s privacy settings and make sure you change them from the default if necessary to button down privacy. Don’t overshare; rather, be careful about posting information about yourself, your family or your friends. Lock down social media accounts so you’re not publicly sharing things like photos or when you’re away on vacation. Facebook, for one, translated its privacy policy into plain English a few months ago, which should help. Here are 5 tips to staying safe on Facebook that should also help.
  • Think before you upload.
    After they grow up, do you really think a child will thank you for uploading photos of them waddling around in their nappy? Think of their feelings before you post. Also, common courtesy requires us to ask if it’s OK before we post photos of others. It doesn’t matter how adorable a photo is; if the child isn’t yours, make sure to ask for their parent’s permission before you post their cake-smeared grin online. After all, once that photo’s online, it’s practically impossible to stamp it out.
  • Keep up to date.
    Social networks regularly add new features and update their own settings, so it’s important to stay on top of them.
  • Stay in control.
    Don’t use social networks as a replacement for your own photo albums or hard drive storage, and remember that some social networks will obtain rights to your images once you’ve uploaded them.

Image of photos of kids courtesy of Shutterstock.