During Privacy Awareness Week (12-18 May 2019) 60% of parents in Australia said their child is exposed to risks from being online, pixevety is calling on schools and parents to protect each child's right to digital privacy and online safety.
An official supporter of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner's Privacy Awareness Week, image protection platform pixevety is concerned that hundreds of millions of images are being uploaded to social media channels every day, many of them of children, and not always with parental consent.
Colin Anson, CEO of pixevety, explained, "Our children are 'born digital' and in many ways exposure in the online world presents more of a risk than in the physical one. Schools and parents are responsible for protecting them until such time as they are old enough to make their own decisions about their online presence.
"One of the biggest threats today is the use of a child's image. An image is the one piece of data that most easily shares a mountain of information to identify a person, including their facial identity, age, interests, religion, location, and even tells strangers what school they go to and when you are not at home.
"Today's pressure on Facebook to fix its privacy issues and the recent controversial My Health Record campaign proved Australians are wanting to claw back control of their privacy online – and even more so for their children. 69% of Australians say they are more concerned about their online privacy than they were five years ago. Yet when it comes to image privacy and who can see photos of your children, most don't know where to start."
Australians can take simple steps to minimise the risks for themselves and their family when it comes to image sharing. Starting conversations and setting boundaries around consent for the use of images is imperative to protect privacy. And importantly, institutions such as schools, where thousands of images are taken each year, must ensure that they are managing the images properly and obtaining specific consent for the use of children's photos.
"Every parent has the right to determine how their child's photo is used, and every child has the right to safety and digital privacy. So, make sure your school obtains specific consent for the ways that you are happy for your child's photo to be shared. If you are happy for your child's photo to be in the yearbook but not on the school's social media channels or website, then they are required to comply with those boundaries. Remember to S.N.A.P.: Check if your School Now Asks Parents before sharing.
"Privacy, once lost, is incredibly hard to regain. If you have a privacy-first mentality when dealing with your children's digital footprint, it can reduce a lot of the risks associated with sharing their image and set them up for a healthier relationship with technology when they are old enough to protect themselves. We must change our mindsets when it comes to uploading images online and, with that, consider the next generation's privacy," says Colin Anson, pixevety CEO.
The Australian eSafety Commission warns that half of all images on paedophile image-sharing sites originate from social media sites and blogs. These images, downloaded in the thousands, don't have to be promiscuous images to attract their attention either. Whether it be the birth of a child or a kid's party, or at a school event, people are uploading images of children every day. With a total of 40 billion photos in general being shared on Instagram alone4, that means billions of images of children are easily accessible online.
The Deloitte Australian Privacy Index ranks the education sector as one of the weakest sectors on privacy. In this digital age, image control and privacy management are essential, especially at educational institutions where there is a duty of care. This is critical for students in foster care or custody disputes, and sensitive situations like AVOs and intellectual disabilities.
Using photos inappropriately or without consent can cause pain. Consider a child, already embarrassed by their learning difficulties, who becomes the brochure image for the Remedial Learning department. Or a shot of an already self-conscious teen in their swimsuit competing at the school swimming carnival shared on the school Facebook page. Or a photo of your child in uniform (therefore revealing their location), with their full name and age, shared on the school website without consent.
In a survey 80% of Australians agree they would never want 'Photos of my kids/family' shared with third parties when asked for their views about organisations sharing different types of data and information with third parties – higher than any other type of data or information.
"While it is a common rite of passage to announce a baby's birth online, this is actual the start of the child's digital footprint and by including details such as full name and date of birth, parents are opening them up to a plethora of risks, now and in the future. And we see schools taking on average 35,000+ photos per year without a manageable way to give parents a choice in how photos of their children are used. And the result is often one that opens children up to the risk of image-based abuse," concluded Anson.
Run by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), Privacy Awareness Week seeks to promote and raise awareness of privacy issues, the importance of protecting personal information and how to best protect privacy online.
An official supporter of Privacy Awareness Week, pixevety protects every parent's right to determine how their child's photo is used and protects every child's right to safety and digital privacy. It also helps schools and child-safe organisations navigate the minefield of privacy laws and student photo protection in just a few clicks with a secure, hassle-free solution for managing and sharing photos. For schools and parents, pixevety offers unique, real-time consent technology that helps reduce privacy and data breach risks.
Question: What advice do you have for parents who wish to teach their child about online privacy?
Colin Anson: If you use social media, make your children aware of why you use it, how you use it, and what you don't do. And when you feel your child is ready to have their own profile, sit down with them and let them know what a big responsibility it is.
We need to protect every child's right to digital privacy and online safety and that means educating them through the set-up process of social media. Help your children implement the many tools available on social media sites, such as privacy settings and tag approvals. Simply taking these extra steps can avoid a whole world of pain, stress, and anguish caused by the wrong photo being posted online.
Set up boundaries around what they can share online, who they can connect with and who they shouldn't. You could even sign a contract together outlining what you've discussed to make it feel like a real family commitment.
We need to start treating the digital world as an extension of the real world and stop relying on it to protect its citizens. It's up to parents to take the reins on this front because not monitoring children's online behaviour is a huge safety risk for children.
As with most parenting issues, it's important to lead by example in the digital sphere. When they are at an age to understand, it's essential to talk to your children about their rights and help them become aware of why it's important to be actively involved in their consent to the sharing of their photos. In our increasingly digital world, children are growing up with their photos being shared far and wide by their parents, relatives and friends. But children must realise they should have control, and a choice, over their own image.
If your child expresses concern or embarrassment about their image being shared, don't dismiss it. Yes, it is common for people to be reluctant to have their photo taken and shared, but any concerns must be taken seriously. Talk to your child and don't go against their wishes. In many cases, it's not simply street cred at risk, but significant implications for future mental and emotional health.
Question: Why should parents reconsider announcing the birth of their child, on social media?
Colin Anson: It's a social media post that hardly seems original in this day and age – and just the first step of a child's digital footprint. Proud parents beam over their newborn announcing the baby's name, date of birth and weight. Underneath, friends and relatives gush over the new addition in comments and emojis.
But this simple post breaches the child's privacy and potentially puts them at risk. These days, it does not take much to steal someone's identity and when a full name, date of birth, and place of birth is in the digital sphere for all to see, it would not take much for the child's identity to be stolen – whether it be now or in decades to come.
While most people want to share happy milestones such as a child's birth, consider not sharing all of the details, such as the exact date of birth.
Question: How does sharing a child's birth, development or achievement pose a safety risk?
Colin Anson: Although your children are 'born digital', it's worth considering that in many ways exposure in the online world presents more of a risk than in the physical one. As parents, you are responsible for protecting them until such time as they are old enough to make their own decisions about their online presence.
From a single picture of a child at school, for example, a stranger can work out their age, where to find them during school hours, the area they live, their favourite sports, interests, abilities, and socio-economic status.
The reality is that having images and identifying details can be used for a number of activities that put your child at risk, from paedophilia and stalking, to harassment, cyberbullying, identity theft and even kidnapping.
According to research conducted by cybersecurity company McAfee, 30% of Australian parents use social media to post a photo or video of their child at least once a week, with 12% posting at least once a day. This was despite 71% understanding that the image might end up in the wrong hands.
The Australian eSafety Commission warns that half of all images on paedophile image-sharing sites originate from social media sites and blogs. These images, downloaded in the thousands, are used to create fantasy stories for paedophiles – and they don't have to be promiscuous images to attract attention either.
Question: How can parents protect their child's privacy in our very online world?
Colin Anson: Practising privacy - Abstaining from posting photos is the most privacy you can give your children, but that it is unlikely to be realistic, especially when interacting with relatives who live apart from you but who want to know your children. So, consider some simple steps to ensure better privacy practices.
Consent – ask your child's permission before posting their picture. This gets them in the right mindset to consider what they post in the future. Always ask consent from other parents before posting pictures of their children and communicate what you do and do not want posted.
Schools – we see schools taking on average 35,000+ photos per year without a manageable way to give parents a choice in how photos of their children are used. And the result is often one that opens children up to the risk of image-based abuse. Using photos inappropriately or without consent can cause pain. Consider a child, already embarrassed by their learning difficulties, who becomes the brochure image for the Remedial Learning department. Or a shot of an already self-conscious teen in their swimsuit competing at the school swimming carnival shared on the school Facebook page. Or a photo of your child in uniform (therefore revealing their location), with their full name and age, shared on the school website without consent. Parents need to give schools boundaries of how they want their child's photo to be used and shared, and know that this won't exclude them from activities.
Selection – think about what you deem appropriate to share and select your shots based on this. You may want to avoid full frontal face shots or swimwear.
Details – exclude or blur out identifying details such as school badges and name tags and keep birth announcements less precise such as omitting middle names and/or saying they were born a few days ago, rather than the exact date of birth.
Metadata – digital photos often contain metadata that records the time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken and when you share the photo you may be sharing this data. There are tools to wipe this data or consider sharing screenshots of photos, which are also lower resolution so less likely to be tampered with.
Childcare, schools and clubs etc - make sure they obtain specific consent for the ways that you are happy for your child's photo to be shared and that they fully understand the boundaries you want them to abide by. Stop signing blanket or general consent forms. Make sure you only provide informed, specific consent to any organisation wanting to use your child's photo. Find out when and where a photo is being used, and for what purpose.
Don't overshare - only share images of your children with people you know and trust. Fully understand how the permissions and privacy settings on your social media channels work to ensure you're not sharing images of your children with the whole world every time you post.
Question: At what age do you believe a child is old enough to make their own decisions considering their online privacy?
Colin Anson: Firstly, do the right thing and check the legal digital age in your country to allow your children to go online, and stick to that initial goal post. In Australia, the age of digital consent is 13, in many other countries it is 16. After that point, consider the child's development milestone progress and level of maturity as we all know every child is different. Combine this factor with how much time you, as their parent, have spent educating your child on how to be a good digital citizen. Now, you should have your answer.
Personally, although the digital age of consent is 13 in Australia, my husband and I – together with our daughter – decided the age of 15 sounded about right. This is the age in the real world where teenagers are given more adult-level responsibilities, like getting a casual job. They are also more fully aware of the risks in the real world from being educated at school, own life experiences or the life experiences of others, and generally know the difference between right and wrong, and what behaviours should be questioned.
That said, always be aware that the teenage brain is not as rational as an adult's one, and is, therefore, more open to risk-taking and will continue to require adult supervision or guidance until they are themselves an adult.
Question: Can you tell us about pixevety?
Colin Anson: pixevety is an easy-to-use online platform that offers a hassle-free solution to reduce the daily stress and privacy pitfalls of managing and sharing photos and videos of children. pixevety is simple, safe, smart and secure.
I witnessed first-hand the potential risks and harm the mismanagement of photos can have on children. And he became an advocate for protecting every parent's right to determine how their child's photo is used, and protecting every child's right to safety and digital privacy. After learning of the minefield of privacy laws and the daily stress for schools in managing and sharing the photos of every single student, I decided to do something about it. And pixevety was born.
pixevety is entirely in the business of protecting the digital identity of children. pixevety is uniquely designed to automatically track 'who is in a photo' and attach associated consents given by parents/guardians, online - and in real-time – to ensure a parent has full transparency over how a school is using their child's photo, and a school can then reduce its risk in not using a child's image inappropriately. Every commercial decision made asks the question "Will this reduce the risk of a child being harmed?"
Interview by Brooke Hunter