Aug 19, 2014

    Don't compromise child's privacy

    IT SEEMS reasonable enough.

    On the last day of your daughter's soccer camp, you snap a few photos of her with the ball. During the game, you record video. After her victory, you take some more pictures of your sweaty mess, because you are a proud parent.

    The problem is what happens next: That moment you decide to upload those photos and videos from your cellphone to Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

    Once you post and tag your child, she becomes subject to an array of databases over which you have little control.

    I am a parent and I understand the desire to share happy memories, in real time, with family and friends. I am also a digital media futurist, which means that I know that the social networks we use are not closed circuits, and that our digital identities are increasingly - and inextricably - linked to our faces.

    Facial recognition technology is now engineered into more than you may think: our search engines, our photo-editing apps, even our connected television sets.

    In the next five years, our faces will start to replace passwords. They will also be used by law enforcement, government officials and companies to quickly learn who we are both online and in the real world.

    This generation, the Millennials, is the most surveilled generation in our history.

    By recording and publishing our children's every dental visit, afternoon recital or poopie diaper, we are removing any possibility of their future privacy.

    Once you tag photos and videos with your child's name, you have contributed a significant amount of actionable information to somebody else's structured database. Machine learning algorithms can then analyse your photos, and over time recognise your children, even as they age.

    Right now, I can easily learn where someone lives, where they work, where they went to high school, who their close friends are - using only a photo to start.

    Children whose parents willingly contributed photos and videos online will increasingly be easier to search, parse and identify.

    Sharing that kind of content may have an additional unintended consequence.

    Because Millennials are used to being recorded, they are more likely to post an incriminating photo of themselves online.

    Since photos can be searched, the GenX and Baby Boomer managers are now using data scraped from social networks to make hiring decisions.

    It is not that these managers object to a drunk night at school necessarily, but that the photo was captured and published for the public to see.

    The problem is that GenX and Baby Boomers do not always decontextualise the data they are using to inform their decisions, even though they caused the shift in how our attitude towards privacy has evolved as technology has become more ubiquitous.

    For parents who want to remain connected to their friends and family, there are plenty of alternatives that would not compromise your child's privacy now, or in the future.


    Amy Webb is the founder and chief executive of Webbmedia Group, a near-future strategy agency.