Friend me on Facebook, and I more than likely will be able to locate your kid on any given day.
I know you’re out of the house running at 7 p.m. and I know the streets you run, thanks to your running app post. Now, I can find your house (the start and stop location of your running route) and check my assumption based on the picture of your front garden. I know your kid’s approximate age, your school district, and where they attend based on your annual first day of school picture. Now, I’ll look for the bus stop in your neighborhood. Thanks to your viral post about “If you love your kid, post their birth info,” I now can make false documentation for your child. Knowing that your husband picks up your kid from daycare from a post about him being late once, I know about what time he picks up your kid and that he’s to be expected — I also know he’s currently on vacation. I wasn’t sure what daycare your kid attended so I checked your “likes.” Bingo. I also found your relatives’ names. I guess I’ll be picking up your child tomorrow and letting them know Aunt Suzy sent me. If she cries, don’t worry, I know her favorite ice cream too and will have it waiting for her when I arrive.
As a mother, we’re constantly being told to monitor our kid’s time online, to be wary of certain apps, to give them tips on evading predators, and more; however, as much as we want to protect our children, sometimes I believe the biggest threat to their safety is not the just child’s online time, but the mother’s social media presence.
This isn’t a post to shame you in your discretion of how much or how little to place your kid online, but just to make you aware of how “harmless” posts add up to quite a bit of information.
Let’s take a look at a few potential risks:
Location App Posts
I’ve seen several posts that would help me identify where you live, or a place you routinely visit.
I love your fitness journey, and am proud of how fast you can run a 5k, but posting your app’s summary of your run tells me the streets you run on (and more than likely where your home is located), your running routine, and how long you’ll be on foot and out of the house.
Also, did you know pictures from you phone can contain GPS coordinates of where it was taken? With your phone’s location services turned on, I can potentially download the image and find these GPS coordinates. Learn more about this, and how to turn off location services, here.
Images are worth a thousand words — many of those words unintentional.
The background of images contain a lot of information. Even a simple picture of your front garden, combined with a running app post or knowing a school district, could allow me to locate your street, and then look for the house in the picture you posted. Pay special attention to what’s revealed in your pictures.
Likes and Reviews
Liking or reviewing a business tells me about your routine, activities, and places nearby.
I can probably guess where your child attends daycare, a play gym, or other scheduled activities based on your likes or your public reviews of certain businesses. Although this is only a little bit of information, it can add up to quite a lot of information if someone is intentionally looking for it.
Viral Posts and “Friendly” Quizzes
It’s all fun and games until you’ve given strangers unlimited, permanent access to your private profile.
If you wouldn’t hand out your kid’s photos to a stranger on the street who asked for them, then why would you online? These fun personality or character quizzes seem so harmless, until you more deeply analyze what information that app has attained.
I remember seeing the cute word art quiz that tells you the words you most often use on Facebook — but for the app to have that type of access means you allowed them to scan all your posts. Other quizzes have given a group of strangers unlimited access to images (which a group could easily scan for certain types of photos and download and save to their servers). Also, remember that by using an application, you’re agreeing to the terms of service (such as them scanning your posts and photos) that you (probably) never read.
Public Information on Your Profile
Please please understand your settings.
I’ve seen a lot of confusion about public vs. private information and posts on Facebook. Potentially anything on your profile could be public depending on your settings, and anything public is potentially indexed on search engines (like Google!). Not to mention, even private posts truly aren’t private.
Be sure to review what others can see, even those who aren’t your direct contacts. In fact, Facebook has a handy tool for this. When you’re viewing your profile, click in the upper right-hand corner on the “…” button and click “View as…” to review what a specific person or group can see. Go through your photos in this mode and your posts to see what private information you’re sharing. And, make necessary changes. Please also understand the settings on individual posts: if you share a post publicly, anyone and everyone on or off Facebook can find it. And remember, ANY post you write can be shared with a screenshot.
Commentary about Schedules or Routines
Revealing routines couldn’t be more valuable to a predator.
Innocent, but revealing posts could simply be “Our weekly Sunday stroll!” with a picture of a recognizable park, or perhaps a splash pad image that gets featured nearly every weekend. If I’m wanting to locate your kid or have a chance at gaining their attention, I know where to find you. Also, simple posts like “Driving home from work!” can be revealing of when you come and go from certain locations.
Public Event Check Ins and RSVPs
When you RSVP to public event on Facebook, it posts your RSVP to your social network and beyond.
Now, we all know where you’re headed and when, and anyone who also RSVP’d to the event can check the attendance as well.
Harmless “Innocent” Photos
Unfortunately there’s a huge audience waiting for little Suzy’s diaper in the water debut.
This is a really sensitive topic to several parents, I understand, but is also a common problem that investigators frequently find on the black web and on pedophile’s personal computers. Your “innocent” photo easily becomes a valuable commodity to (obscenely) edit and trade. Predators look for certain types of photos to edit, add what they’d like to, and trade and sell across publicly inaccessible sites. And, no, you can’t simply do a reverse image Google search to see who has your kid’s photo.
Certain types of photos, in fact, are more valuable than others: children baring a lot of skin, photos with enough background to edit other people into it, duck faces, or photos that can be mistaken or edited to seem like they are a part of a sexual act. Read more about this here from a man that worked in a special task force to bust pedophile rings.
Many pedophiles develop internet “child” crushes from repeated posts and images about certain children — and your profile might also give just the information they need to find your child.
But I only add people I know, so how is this dangerous?
I’d love to be the person that tells you that everyone you know has good intentions, but statistical data tells us that sexual abuse is more likely to come from the family’s inner circle than from a stranger. We can’t always guarantee that everyone we know doesn’t have a hidden agenda. One thing to be cautious about is any “grooming” behaviors on or offline toward you or your child.
Next, I’ve seen several cases where posts or images were shared by friends through screenshots. Not all of your friends are as careful with your information as you may believe. Anything you post, private or public, is accessible (and, once again, especially if you’re participating in those trendy Facebook quizzes mentioned above).
So what now? Should I just place my kid in a bubble and pretend they don’t exist in my life?
I could hear this dripping off someone’s lips in the comment section. And no, I don’t believe that’s true! I still continue to post about my child because Facebook is a great tool to keep my family members and friends updated. And, what better thing to post about my life than my kids!?
I’m simply wanting to inform you of possibilities — to raise awareness about how information from small posts can add up. Social media enhances our ability to share our lives with our friends and loved ones, but if we’re not careful, we’re also sharing our lives with those who would do us harm.