Parents Put Kids at Risk on Social Media

January 21, 2019

We teach children to beware of strangers but, sadly, many loving, well-meaning parents are putting kids in “stranger danger” daily. A new study found that parents and relatives posting on social media are exposing vast amounts of information about children, and technology companies are collecting data from those posts—data that can be breached or leveraged by bad actors to steal children’s identities or cause other harm.

According to the report, Who Knows What About Me, there will be an average of 70,000 posts about a child by the time he or she turns 18. In some cases, “datafication” of children even starts before birth, when pregnant mothers post information such as the child’s sex. Tech companies collect all this information to sell advertising, but it’s too easy for kids’ information to fall into the wrong hands. Security experts at financial services giant Barclay’s predict that by 2030, two-thirds of identity fraud affecting young people over 18 will be a result of “sharenting,” oversharing of personal information by parents and relatives. And prospective employers, college admissions departments, and even lenders will also use social media to vet that young person down the line.

Social media is an easy way to keep up with family and friends, but it shouldn’t put a child’s future at risk. Here are some tips to avoid over-sharenting:

  • Use privacy settings. Review your social media privacy settings regularly to control what posts are private vs. public and be sure you know who will receive private posts. Limit posts of children to private settings and be cautious about data you share, such as posting birthday pictures and messages which make important dates like birthdays more available to others.
  • Beware of posting photos and videos. Many cameras and video recorders use geo-tagging to embed time and location information into images and videos. That information can be used to track a child’s activities and interests or by bad guys to stalk a child. So, either don’t post images of kids or turn geo-tagging off on your device before you take pictures.
  • Think before you post. Does the post include information that could help a stranger identify or locate the child, or that could lead to identity theft? Does it contain information that could be embarrassing or damaging to the child, either with peers or when they’re applying to a future school or employer? If so, don’t post it.
  • Consider communicating some other way. Your grandparents didn’t publicly share your parents’ every moment with hundreds of followers, and maybe you shouldn’t either. Most social media platforms support some form of direct messaging. Rather than posting, consider setting up a messaging group for family and friends or use a photo sharing service such as Flickr, Amazon Prime Photos, or Photobucket where you can invite specific people.

You would think that collecting personal information on children, especially young ones, would be illegal, and it is: the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits data collection by websites and online services aimed at children under 13, except with parental permission. But social media websites aren’t aimed specifically at children under 13, and when parents post information about children, they are implicitly giving consent to data collection.

The unfortunate truth is that data about children is fair game for social media companies, their advertisers, and anyone else who might want to use or misuse the information they collect. So, in order to protect the kids you love, you need to be aware of what you share.

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