Today McAfee, the device-to-cloud cybersecurity company, announces findings from its new study, The Age of Consent. The study discovered that 20% of UK parents share at least one video or photo of their children on social media a day, resulting in approximately 1.3 billion images of children under the age of 16 floating around on social media a year – showing the extent of child exposure on the web.
Most parents recognise the concerns associated with sharing images of children online including paedophilia (51%), kidnapping (32%) and cyberbullying (27%), but nearly a third (30%) share these on public pages and accounts, across social media sites. Worryingly, 72% of parents don’t even ask their child if they would like their picture to be shared online. In fact, 40% of parents do not believe their child has the right to consent to their image being shared online – putting their identity at severe risk without their permission.
However, despite voicing these worries, this concern doesn’t translate into action, as many admit to still including children’s personal information and private details in online images. For example, over half (53%) of parents admit they have or would share a photo of their child in their school uniform despite the risk of giving away personal information. One thing is clear, the majority (79%) of parents never share images of their children with no clothes on social media.
“Social media is an incredible tool for sharing photos and images of our family with loved ones,” said Allen Scott, Consumer EMEA Director at McAfee. “However, parents are clearly not giving enough consideration to what they post online and how it could harm their children. If shared images get into the wrong hands, they can be used to gather personal information like birth dates, school or a child’s full name to paint a picture of who they are, which could have serious repercussions ranging from identity theft to cyberbullying.”
While its clear parents are worried about physical risks to their children’s safety, results indicate less concern about the emotional risks. Over a quarter (27%) of parents have considered that their child may find an image they upload embarrassing, but went ahead and uploaded it to social media regardless. Emotional side effects should not be discounted. According to a survey from ComRes, more than one in four children between 10 and 12 years old feel embarrassed, anxious or worried when their parents post pictures of them online.
However, McAfee discovered that less than half (48%) of parents believe children under the age of 10 should need to give their consent before an image of them is shared on social media. While 11% of parents state they would even ask children under the age of 4 for permission before posting.
“As a parent, I completely understand wanting to share your child’s proudest moments such as the first day of school, but we need to consider the emotional and security risks of posting on our children’s behalf. In addition to sometimes embarrassing our children, we must recognise that it can lead to other future problems such as job applications or university decisions made from what the internet says about your child, rather than his or her ability itself. I caution parents to think twice about what they share publicly before it is too late.”
Parental Tips for Safe Sharing
- Watch out for geo-tagging. Many social networks will tag a user’s location when a photo is uploaded. Parents should ensure this feature is turned off to avoid disclosing their location. This is especially important when posting photos away from home.
- Lock down privacy settings. Parents should only share photos and other social media posts with their intended audience. Services like Facebook and Instagram have features that allow posts to be shared only with confirmed connections, but everything posted on a social network should be treated as if it’s public. Deleted never means disappeared forever.
- Set ground rules with friends, family and children. Be clear with friends and family about guidelines when posting images. These rules can help avoid awkward situations where a family member has shared photos without explicit permission. Don’t forget that these ground rules should also apply to protect the children in the images from embarrassment, anxiety or even cyberbullying.
- Use an identity theft protection service. As the number of reported data breaches continue to rise, so too does the possibility of identity theft. For children who are too young for a credit card, parents should freeze their credit to avoid any unauthorized use. An identity theft protection solution like McAfee Identity Theft Protection can help consumers proactively protect their identity and keep their personal information secured from misuse.