Is Facebook secure for your kid’s photographs?

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This article started out, funnily enough, as a Facebook message to a family member who had asked me to remove pictures of a child from my Facebook account, just in case the pictures fell into the hands of evil weirdos. It was clearly believed that this would somehow protect the child (in this case, my grand-daughter), from unwelcome attention.

Paranoia around child abuse is not good, and leads to the sort of thing that appeared in the papers a few years ago. So, I’m going to attempt to help others better understand the implications of getting out of bed in the morning, and risks that can expose us all to.

Have you looked for “baby” lately on Google images? 340 million image so far. Search for baby photos on istockphoto.com, fotolia.com, alamy.com – in fact any large stock image library carries tens of thousands of baby images for professional use. I’m guilty myself of paying a mother money so I could get some saleable photos of her baby – it’s what professional photographers do. Those images hopefully wind up on packaging, advertising, or in editorial content such as magazines and books. Oh don’t worry, anyone I photographed under age was always done so with guardians close by and with model release forms signed off).

Look at this alamy page here! – thousands of babies for the perverts to look at – some are even, shock horror, unclothed! Does this make the world a darker place? If you think so, then I would suggest you need to take a reality check, and review the inner workings of your own mind.

The Facebook issue

How many people do you trust with photos of your kids on facebook?

You might trust those people as individuals not to be a wierdo, but are they all experienced IT professionals? How do you know their PC’s haven’t been compromised by malware and being secretly looked at by wierdos? And if your friends, or their friends choose to share your posts, are you equally confident about all of their friends too, and their computer security? What if they print those pictures off, do you have any control over that? Are you even sure your own computer or phone hasn’t been compromised?

Did you ever take your photos into a high street photo printer for quality prints? How do you know that system is secure and that the operator isn’t another of those wierdos? What about people who might save the images locally to their computer – and then take their computer to get it fixed by some wierdo IT tech? Worse, what if they emailed those photos to someone else? Email is inherently insecure, and wierdos who work for ISPs can easily take a look at your pictures.

Don’t think that your facebook uploads are secure either – they are NOT encrypted, open to being listened in on by anyone with access to an interposed device on the route between your node and the Facebok cloud. This includes people with access to your phone carrier’s network, and other wierdos sat on the same shared WiFi hotspot if you use cafes or bars to do your surfing.

Inherently insecure

If you want to use Facebook, then consider everything, and I mean everything you put on there to be insecure. To do otherwise is plain stupid. Even the founder of Facebook has said that he doesn’t believe in privacy for heaven’s sake!

Even if Facebook was totally secure (which has been proven otherwise again and again), it is a SHARING network, and we all know what happens when you share things. Your friends share stuff with their friends, intentionally or not. And they, in turn can further share, and so on. This is where the security fades into non-existence. It’s why we all suffer from the common cold, and cold sores!

If you really want to make sure “wierdos” aren’t looking at your baby then I would seriously recommend not putting ANY pictures of him/her ANYWHERE other than on a bit of paper in a frame on the wall under the stairs – and keep the curtains shut, just in case someone walks by. CRB check any visitors. Cancel your broadband connection, your mobile phones (they know where you are, you know). Pay for everything in cash at the till, and wear a false beard, wig, spectacles and ha-jib whenever you leave the house. Oh, and buy a roll of bacofoil and wrap it around your head to make sure the wierdo space aliens aren’t getting an eyefull of your child using their powerful mind probing devices!

Get things in perspective

Am I being harsh? Not really, I’m just trying to help you put this into perspective. It is staggeringly naive to think that anything you do online (apart from maybe log into your online banking) is designed with security at the top of the agenda. Believing that limiting with whom you share your facebook images will in any way save you from the weirdos is sadly mistaken.

Should you be afraid of Facebook? In terms of child safety derived from putting a couple of happy childhood pictures to share with friends and family, I don’t believe so. If someone really wants to take an unhealthy interest in your child, then a couple of photos on Facebook are going to be the least of your problems. There is also the issue of security through obscurity. As I have already said, there are hundreds of millions of child photographs legitimately placed in the public domain (internet, libraries, magazines, books etc) – there is more chance of a weirdo seeing your child in the street than online – plus, don’t forget that almost all child abuse cases are perpetrated by the family itself, or people close to the family.

The world isn’t THAT dark

This is the reason parents are no longer allowed to take a camera to their kid’s sports day, theatre productions, or other memorable ocassions. It’s why men are falsely accused of all sorts of crap week in, week out. It’s why as a professional photographer shooting special events (even for the organisers), I’ve had more than one run-in with paranoid parents (I must have looked like a very suspicious pedo wearing a bright yellow bib with “PHOTOGRAPHER” writ large across my back) – but that’s another story.

If you want my honest opinion, you are in more danger from people who see your child regularly, or of him/her being snatched in the street than you are from someone (who should, after all, be your friends) on Facebook seeing an innocent picture.

If it’s the “principle” that someone “might” use your child’s image for unhealthy activities, then you have to seriously consider if you are being too risk averse. By the age of 5, your child will be “seen” in person by thousands of people  – many of those people will live locally to you. It’s not impossible that one of those people “might” be the wrong sort. Is this a reason to insulate your child from a normal development? If you believe so, then you should perhaps consider talking to a health professional.

Am I worried that my grand-child’s picture is on Facebook. No.

Do I like Facebook? I treat it for what it is… a public noticeboard. I post NOTHING on there that would embarrass me if the whole world were to see it.

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