Are parents the biggest threat to online privacy?
Think you have got your online privacy sorted? Perhaps you've made sure that your Facebook settings are super-secure, and that only close friends and family can see the photographs you post on the web. Well, just be thankful you are not a baby, because the biggest threat to your online privacy could come from your parents.
If you are born in 2010, then by the time you are two, your parents are likely to have posted pictures of you on the internet, sometimes even before you are born, and some will even have gone so far as to create a Facebook profile for you.
That at least is the conclusion of some research into the way mothers of children under the age of two use the internet. The survey for the security company AVG questioned over 2,000 mothers in 10 countries, and found that 81% had uploaded images of their children. Not that surprising, you might think. But 23% had uploaded antenatal scans for friends to see, 7% had given their baby an e-mail address, and 5% had created a profile on a social network.
In summary, most babies born today will find when they grow up that they have quite a sizeable digital footprint online over which they have had no control.
My children were both born before the advent of social networking and the mass sharing of photos and personal information that has come with that phenomenon. But I can completely understand the desire to share pictures of your newborn in this modern manner, just as we popped a few photos in the post to our friends and families.
I am slightly less comfortable with the idea of creating a profile for your child online without their consent. A friend made a Facebook page for his newborn son within days of the boy's birth. Now, at 18 months, the young fellow already has 132 friends (including me) and is frequently online, posting photos of himself and telling us about his passion for red buses and police cars, and his sleepovers with other babies. I am not entirely sure, though, that it is his fingers on the keyboard.
This is an engaging way for his parents to let their nearest and dearest know of their son's progress, and they can control who sees any of the material. Just a bit of fun, really. The question is what will the infant Facebooker feel when he gets to an age when he's actually allowed to have a social networking profile? He will find that his entire life up to that point has already been laid out online.
My generation found it bad enough when parents got out the baby pictures to show to our girlfriends. I've warned my friend not to be surprised if the revelation of his father's Facebook fun sparks a teenage rebellion from his son.
We are all finding our way in this new era of online sharing, working through tricky questions of etiquette - should I let my boss be my Facebook friend, is it right to mix the personal and professional on Twitter, will my work colleagues think less of me if they see those pictures of my stag night? But one rule that is gradually emerging is that it is polite to check with friends before you post private pictures of them online in a place where lots of other people can see them. Perhaps we need to start consulting our children before we start making great big footprints all over the web on their behalf.