"We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online"

Wednesday, September 04, 2013 - 08:53 AM

baby hand motherhood kids parenting (Bridget Coila/flickr)

This morning Slate published an interesting essay by Amy Webb, where she talks about how she and her husband have decided, since their young daughter's birth, to keep all traces of her off the internet.

I tend to be sympathetic to the writers of stories like this one, where someone's abstaining form one of the privacy intrusions that the rest of us have mostly decided to happily take for granted. "Why should it be normal to upload pictures of your kid to a website that'll scan those pictures in for their facial recognition service?"

But when Webb describes 'Kate,' the daughter of one of their friends, as a counter-example of exactly the kinds of privacy intrusions she's trying to shield her kid against, I wondered if those intrusions are really so bad as to be worth this much trouble.

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.

The more realistically scary problem Webb points to is that these pictures could be used in a sort of Minority Report / Matrix future, where the kid's face is uploaded into facial recognition algorithms and they've lost their right to privacy before they hit puberty. 

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 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.

Dystopian as that all sounds, I think it's probably right. That said, I wonder how opt-outable any of this stuff is. It's hard to imagine a 13-year-old today who would willingly abstain from social media. And if they do, it's hard to imagine their class of fellow 13-year-olds agreeing not to post any photos of them across social media, as a way of respecting their peer's parents' wishes about the role of Big Data. Worst case scenario, I suppose you can always just have a funeral for your old identity. 



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Comments [6]

Reader from California, United States

The article seemed to suggest that this was a preventative action, implying that they hadn't posted anything about their daughter online. However, several commenters on the Slate article pointed out that Ms. Webb posted photos of her daughter online the very same day the article went live.

Sep. 09 2013 12:35 AM
Reader from California, United States

Except that in the original Slate story, Ms. Webb also detailed how she and her husband registered domain names and various accounts with their child's name (which they said they chose by doing research online to see what was available!). Even if they don't use those domains and accounts, doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of their attempt to protect her identity and privacy!?

Sep. 08 2013 11:58 PM
Matt C

I had this same fight with my family when my kids were born (cat's out of the bag, so yes I have kids) and lost.
But I HATE IT when people post pics of me or [OHMAGERD I HATE THIS] tag me in a photo.

(I have a facebook account that could be closed down by fFacebook at any time due to having false information. I just hope they don't try to sue me.)

I wouldn't have a problem with it if it weren't for the abuses (which I guess is kind of the same thing I'd say about the Whole Internet). Social media is a beautiful thing until you add capitalism/fascism to the mix. And so I don't end on hyperbole, I should say I was just lamenting this problem the other day and gave a lot more thought to the idea that the internet changed the way humans ARE.
Growing up in the 80s I liked soccer. But to follow soccer in the 80s, in the midwest, was to read newspapers. tWWL would occasionally show one of the hot soccer teams, and that was great once I had cable. Before that, I saw maybe one or two games on wide world of sports or whatever. If I wanted to learn more about a foreign club I had to go to the library and it was near impossible to figure out how to get much of that information. The internet changed mission impossible into a 30 second Google (/trademark) scan and a drop by wikipedia. You could go more in depth of course, but those few minutes will yield you the same or more than a day's worth of digging when I was younger. I want a card catalog card for a souvenir. People think about information differently as a result of this shift, and maybe it's inevitable that everyone starts to bleed into each others' space more and more. I worry about how that will be wielded/used by those with the power, but I kind of feel like it's not my worry to have. That's what the kids growing up with it will have to deal with. I'll watch the train leave the station (of course I went with the outdated train metaphor). Seriously though, I wonder where this all ends up. There are kids driving now who have never lived in a world without the internet and www. in advertisements. The #hashtag.generation are approaching tweenhood. Will this lead us to some profound metamorphosis into something approaching eternal life? [With everything documented from birth to death, of the body, why would some type of AI not be able to simulate or replicate a digital You? Live on in The Cloud. Kinda sounds like a retirement community. Might be interesting to see what a hacker could do from inside the system, Tron style.]

I wish there would be a mass migration to one (or more) of the non-commercial social media sites. I wonder how many "likes" a status update of "Leaving Facebook for 'green'er pastures" would get.

Sep. 06 2013 10:47 PM

@Ryan - We're working on it. We are having style sheet problems! Should be fixed very soon.

@Kelly D. That's sort of how I feel.

Sep. 05 2013 06:04 PM

Seems pretty easy to opt out of it. But then again I don't have a 13 year-old kid, so I'm a little unfamiliar with just how prevalent all this is (especially when it comes to group events). I use social media, but I don't post pictures of my face/butt, and it just so happens that none of my friends do. It's only when I hang out with my sisters that I have to go, "please don't uppie that pic to instabro." And they're like, FINE.

(Aside: What do you have against regular-sized fonts? 9pt font on the quotation blocks? 11.5pt for the paragraphs? How about 16/14? I'm not old and my vision is fine. Font sizes are FREE! Crank 'em up.)

Sep. 05 2013 01:04 PM
Kelly D from NYC

Being born in America after 1937 prevents anyone from any hope of future anonymity.

Sep. 04 2013 08:39 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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