The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

September 7, 2013

Why we post nothing about our daughter online

I vividly remember the Facebook post. It was my friend's 5-year-old daughter "Kate," (a pseudonym) standing outside of her house in a bright yellow bikini, the street address clearly visible behind her on the front door. A caption read "Leaving for our annual Labor Day weekend at the beach," and beneath it were more than 50 likes and comments from friends - including many "friends" that Kate's mom barely knew.

The picture had been uploaded to a Facebook album, and there were 114 shots just of Kate: freshly cleaned and swaddled on the day of her birth . . . giving her Labradoodle a kiss . . . playing on a swing set. But there were also photos of her in a bathtub and an awkward moment posing in her mother's lacy pink bra.

I completely understood her parents' desire to capture Kate's everyday moments, because early childhood is so ephemeral. I also knew how those posts would affect Kate as an adult, and the broader impact of creating a generation of kids born into original digital sin.

Last week, Facebook updated its privacy policy again. It reads in part: "We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend's pictures to information we've put together from your profile pictures and the other photos in which you've been tagged." Essentially, this means that with each photo upload, Kate's parents are, unwittingly, helping Facebook to merge her digital and real worlds. Algorithms will analyze the people around Kate, the references made to them in posts, and over time will determine Kate's most likely inner circle.

The problem is that Facebook is only one site. With every status update, YouTube video, and birthday blog post, Kate's parents are preventing her from any hope of future anonymity.

That poses some obvious challenges for Kate's future self. It's hard enough to get through puberty. Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates? If Kate's mother writes about a negative parenting experience, could that affect her ability to get into a good college? We know that admissions counselors review Facebook profiles and a host of other websites and networks in order to make their decisions.

There's a more insidious problem, though, which will haunt Kate well into the adulthood. Myriad applications, websites and wearable technologies are relying on face recognition today, and ubiquitous bio-identification is only just getting started. In 2011, a group of hackers built an app that let you scan faces and immediately display their names and basic biographical details, right there on your mobile phone. Already developers have made a working facial recognition API for Google Glass. While Google has forbidden official facial recognition apps, it can't prevent unofficial apps from launching. There's huge value in gaining real-time access to view detailed information about the people with whom we interact.

The easiest way to opt-out is to not create that digital content in the first place, especially for kids. Kate's parents haven't just uploaded one or two photos of her: They've created a trove of data that will enable algorithms to learn about her over time. Any hopes Kate may have had for true anonymity ended with that ballet class YouTube channel.

Knowing what we do about how digital content and data are being cataloged, my husband and I made an important choice before our daughter was born. We decided that we would never post any photos or other personally identifying information about her online. Instead, we created a digital trust fund.

The process started in earnest as we were selecting her name. We'd narrowed the list down to a few alternatives and ran each through domain and keyword searches to see what was available. Next, we crawled through Google to see what content had been posted with those name combinations, and we also looked to see if a Gmail address was open.

We turned to KnowEm.com, a website I often rely on to search for usernames, even though the site is primarily intended as a brand registration service. We certainly had a front-runner for her name, but we would have chosen something different if the KnowEm results produced limited availability or if we found negative content associated with our selection.

With her name decided, we spent several hours registering her URL and a vast array of social media sites. All of that tied back to a single email account, which would act as a primary access key. We listed my permanent email address as a secondary - just as you'd fill out financial paperwork for a minor at a bank. We built a password management system for her to store all of her login information.

On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we've never posted any content.

All accounts are kept active but private. We also regularly scour the networks of our friends and family and remove any tags. Those who know us well understand and respect our "no posts about the kid" rule.

When we think she's mature enough, we'll hand her an envelope with her master password inside. She'll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we'll ensure that she's making informed decisions about what's appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom.

It's inevitable that our daughter will become a public figure, because we're all public figures in this new digital age. I adore Kate's parents, and they're raising her to be an amazing young woman. But they're essentially robbing her of a digital adulthood that's free of bias and presupposition.

Webb writes a column about data for Slate. She's the head of Webbmedia Group, a digital strategy agency, the author of "Data, A Love Story" and the co-founder of Spark Camp.

               

 

 

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • D.G. Martin Read others’ views to be better informed, decide for yourself

    “I don’t read The Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.”

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon This isn’t medical marijuana

    As state legislators debated allowing the use of an extract from marijuana plants to treat seizure disorders over the past couple of weeks, it was evident that social conservatives – there are many of them in the General Assembly – felt a tinge of unease about it, even as almost every one of them voted yes.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Friends and contentment

    Last week I made my annual trip up the mountain to Sparta. My friends have a secluded home near a babbling brook. Their home and property are a haven for peace. It’s a two-plus hour ride to their home that doesn’t feel that long because I look so forward to my time with this great couple. When I arrive, the conversation seems to pick up right where we left it the last time we saw each other.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Thanks for the honest deed

    I would like to thank the person that found my wallet in the parking lot of Harris Teeter on July 23 and turned it in to the Albemarle Police.

    July 29, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • We need your help

    Hurray for the Albemarle City Council. Council plans to battle N.C. Department of Transportation’s ranking of all 13 projects in Stanly County to the bottom of their priority list. Council is setting up petitions in various city buildings for citizens to sign.

    July 28, 2014

  • Council asks veterans to seek office

    The terms of office for the leaders of the Stanly County Veterans Council ended June 30. A call is being sent to veterans council members requesting candidates for the four elective offices of the council. A meeting has been set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the DAV building. All council members are urged to attend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Mike Walden The gains and gaps in our economy

    Twice a year, I pull out my cloudy crystal ball and attempt to make some predictions about the direction and pace of the North Carolina economy. I just finished my latest effort and, as usual, the results are a combination of pluses and minuses.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd Yellow journalism takes on new form, people are dumber for it

    Time to get on the soapbox for a few minutes.
    Let me clear my throat. Eh ... hem!
    People are dumb.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content