So, why are there pictures of your kid on the internet?

Seriously. This is what I always think, as I’m reading the funny things your kids say. And I do mean the stories, as well as the actual pictures, since there’s something so immediate about blogging. And something so universal about the concrete details of a child’s life. And something so political about the fact you write about it parenting like it matters. And yes, you have the cutest, most adorable kid(s) in the world. And you write so cleverly about it. And it’s charming how you do so repeatedly and we get a peek at how this child is growing up.

uh, what if you develop a fanbase?

I’ve got one of those adorable kids. One of those kids that can hear her name mentioned three blocks away, or hear any word with a long A in it. “What are you saying about me?!!” she says. I had to stop blogging about my kids early on. One didn’t want me talking about her, but would have died of jealousy if I talked about any of the others. So, I think the window when you can blog about your kids is relatively small. And maybe it should be.

Haven’t you noticed that Moms Who Blog have young children well under age 8, or children off at college? Not much in between. In many ways, we are a hard group to get to know, though I would dearly love to hear more of what we’d have to say.

So, where did the moms of young literate children go? Well, in between getting more sleep than you and driving carpools, and having life-expectation-breaking experiences we don’t want to discourage you by relaying, we took our blogs private. That’s an easy option at WordPress and Blogger now, and it prevents our children’s classmates from reading our blogs.

Some of us made all our family Flickr/Photobucket pictures private.
Or we accidently launched our kids’ non-paying career in advertising.
Her son in a tech ad.
Her daughter in an endorsement.

Or us moms with reading children are still blogging, but we write about other things. My theory is having some nonparenting life improves my mothering skills, since it’s scotch-taping together my sanity. We could stop looking on our childless friends as potential babysitters (do we do that?) and consider how life-saving it is to have someone relate to you, and you relate to them, as a person instead of someone’s caretaker.

When I have to publish some kid fact or I’ll burst–my kid decided to dress HERSELF as a “Spoiled Brat” for Halloween–sometimes I’ll put it in comments, since comments, at least, are not searchable. What’s your great privacy tip?

And besides, in this age of AnyWho and GoogleEarth, how many of those people in your blog stats can find your street and view by satellite photo whether or not you planted a vegetable garden? If I can figure out your state and last name from your blog, I can sometimes look at the roof over your heads. Do you want me to give it a try–I’ll email you an answer.

53 thoughts on “So, why are there pictures of your kid on the internet?

  1. Johnna, loved the links, especially the ad one. That would unnerve me, to see my child in a random ad someplace. She is lucky she caught it!

    This is why our extended family websites are password protected, to keep them from the search engines.

    I have also wondered about privacy and writing on motherhood–recently I wanted to write a story about my son’s experience for the Friend. I asked him if it would be okay, and he got mad (the incident makes him look bad initially) and said no. I told him that I might make some money and I would share it with him. After much thought, he agreed. I still haven’t written the story, but I wanted to get him okay before I started.

  2. I worry about this. I honestly don’t like posting pictures of my children (most of the time.) In fact, I sometimes contemplate going through old posts and taking the older pictures out.
    I cope by giving people fake names and limiting the amount of personal information I dole out to the public.

    I don’t think that you could, from what I’ve posted on my blog, find out where I live.

  3. Azucar, I’m a longtime fan of your blog, and you are proof that people can write clever fun blogs without giving any idea of where you live. I don’t know how blogging was cut from Proverbs 31, but surely that verse “Her children arise up, and call her blessed” is talking about you.

  4. Are you sure comments aren’t searchable? I’ve been told that people have found me through a comment I’ve made somewhere.

    I’m extremely paranoid about posting pictures of my kids on my blog. I’ve done so once, with his back to the camera. The purveyors of po*n who can scan my kid’s face into some home-made horror flick scare the bejeebers out of me.

    You could probably find out where I live, though. We’re working on that.

  5. Well, people have found me through comments as well. When I comment, I often enter my blog address in the form, and then anyone who likes what I said can click on my name to see where I write. But, I don’t think robots have found me that way. Good point, Heather. I should run some test.

    I know Blogger (owned by Google for a couple years now) doesn’t index the comments as a way to discourage spam commenting.

    Privacy is kind of an creepy topic. I guess I’m a week late for Halloween.

  6. Thanks for the renewal of my already existing anxious nature! I am older than most of you young chickitas and just got persuaded by my young chickita daughter to blog! Oh my, you have listed everything I previously did not blog because of. However, I have one sort of solace, I am doing mostly many years ago type post. I would really worry about the little children because you just click and boom you have them for others joy or vice. Scary world. You can’t be too cautious with the far reaching world of the internet.
    pjb

  7. b.: hey, thanks. i can use the attagirl.

    pjb: I hope you and your daughter keep blogging. Blogging about the childhood of your grown children is very safe, and I’m sure your children and grandchildren will love the stories.

    Blog about your grandchildren too–give them nicknames or several nicknames in rotation if you’re blogging publicly. The family knows who you’re talking about. There’s something about blogging that makes it easy to bit by bit get those stories told. I love it. Or have two blogs, one for those adventures to share in general, another that people you know have to sign in to see.

    When I blog family stories, before we took it to a private group, my strategy was to leave out identity theft details:
    –no birth city
    –no birthdays
    –no current state where they live
    –no last names, no birth names (aka maiden names)
    –no social security numbes (duh)
    Of course, this is making the genealogists extremely frustrated, so we just took the family blog private. Even then, after gathering a nice collection of stories, I’d like to print some copies for ourselves and take the originals offline.

    It makes it easier to understand why they once used those cover names in the Doctrine and Covenants.

  8. I blog very little about my kids and I don’t include pictures of them at all. I send pictures of my kids to my family via email. Honestly, as enjoyable as my friends’ family blogs are, I worry about those pictures. So sad that our world is this way.

  9. Forgot to mention that I do write about my kids. I usually email my parents and a couple of friends with stories and reflections about the kids. Those I save and put in my journal.

  10. yuck–i’m gonna change my photo posting ways!

    but having a real-name web presence is an essential part of being a writer breaking into publishing. so there i’ll stay.

  11. But Kathy, your kids would be great in commercials. ;)

    The real-world name can be a necessity, for yourself or your spouse.

    In that case, I’d be sure my street address is not listed in the phone company directory. Because a phone book for the entire USA in online at anywho.com.

    Just be glad AT&T bought anywho.com a couple years ago. I used to do clever searches on it, I could look up people by the FIRST names, or their house with no name. It was my aide-de-memoire since I forgot PTA people’s names about two minutes after I ate their coffee cake. AT&T put a stop to it.

  12. I recently e-mailed our R.S. President about this so I could include the links to some of the mommy bloggers in our ward. I felt like such a fun-squishing narc but it needed to be pointed out that these ladies have first, last, middle names, pictures, birthdates, location and anything else a perv or identity thief would need to find them or steal their newborn babies. One even had a baby shower announcement with phone, address, etc. on it unobscured. Some refuse to listen to reason and keep pictures of their kids up in the bathtub and in front of signs bearing that child’s elementary school. STOOPID!
    I found a site that was stealing my blog posts. Not my kids pictures but actual blog posts in full. Several e-mails to the webmaster went no where and they’re still up there for the world to see.

  13. totally stoopid. lu$ers.

    uh, why didn’t you email the mommys or call them on the phone? Even when mommys feel invincible, they are flattered by the prospect of being blogrolled at Arugula, Inc. Headache for the RS Pres, not like they’d listen to her anyway.

    Not that my post doesn’t read like an old-time Enrichment Meeting. Like the one where they tell you how to organize your will and life insurance. I feel bad for ten minutes and then never do anything.

    Your posts were probably ripped off your RSS feed.

  14. My sister’s best friend had her identity stolen through a care page she had set up for her son with leukemia. Someone was slurping her blog posts about her son and using them on her own page to solicit donations. The fraud girl ended up in jail over the whole thing.

  15. I have serious fears about all of this. When I check my analytics and see how people are getting to my blog I get even MORE freaked out. I’ve debated about whether or not to take my blog private multiple times.

    Now I think I’m just going to take your advice and try to be more vague about the specifics.

  16. I’m a coward, johnna. I left anonymous tips on the blogs of these ladies in the comments section that their Internet bahaviour isn’t prudent at all. Some listened(like the baby shower invitation lady) but others didn’t. One of them has an unusual last name. Guess what comes up first in a search? Yep, her blog that divulges every detail right down to how many toilet squares they use to wipe. A nare-do-well doesn’t even have to hunt for the info as these ladies slap it up into their sidebar.
    In fact, I posting all this under my pseudonym too cause I don’t want no trouble!
    This lady is the worst offender although she has taken down her last name the blog address still includes her and her husband’s name along with the school her daughter attends, and their general location. It’s like some people think they’re immune to trouble and stick their finger in their ears when others try to warn them. She was warned…..and then put up pictures of her kids naked in the bath tub. WTH??!? [Link to Computer Safety Illiterate Mommy deleted]

  17. You know what else is a problem? Women posting pictures of kids other than their own from different activities. Who says the other mothers want their children pictures and identified and up on the net? I think that constitutes a pretty big breach of privacy laws.

  18. Arugula: number of toilet squares, you crack me up. You tempt me to announce my own habits.

    I took the link to you unwise friend down, but I may email her a tip. It would be very simple for her to make her blogspot private to family. Unsolicited advice from a stranger could work or totally not work in this situation.

    Elastic: I would definitely speak directly to anyone who put identified pics of my children up on the internet. As my kids get older, there are contexts in which I would allow temporary pics to be up–frex, winning the state science fair usually has a press release.

    One of the great difficulties arises with myspace and teens. Even if your own child is sensible about being vague on location and identity details, their friends may include camera phone pictures and specific details, and supposedly private myspace circles of minor-aged children can spread surprisingly wide and include virtual “friends.” I’ve negotiated my children out of myspace and chatrooms by offering other venues.

    However, the Stanford students I used to work with were horrified I didn’t let my children use IM or chat. To some degree, because of my age, they believe I just don’t get it. And maybe I don’t, but I figure chat’s not that hard to master at an older age.

    If there were ever a situation that called us to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, effective use of internet connectivity is surely it.

  19. I had link-happy remorse of the worst kind. Thanks for deleting it. I don’t want to bring trouble to her, but I can’t help but hide my astonishment and disappointment that even her friends have told her of the ease of privatizing her blog and the dangers associated with revealing so much info. Oooh, she’s such a rebellious little spirit……but possibly at her family’s detriment. :(

    My oldest daughter [12] has a blog now mainly to hone her writing skills on something a little more adventurous than pencil and notebook. I monitor everything and she only communicates with a couple friends through it. I have to monitor what she writes on her friend’s blogs too, says my husband. Do you know how many LOL’s, ORLY?’s, and j/k’s I’ve had to wade through? A lot. I’m bi-lingual now. I’m fluent in pre-teen acronysm.

  20. ORLYs? You have learned a second language. I know PLOS (Parent Looking Over Shoulder)

    Even my very young children have blogspots, I’m that way. I learned CSS by fiddling with my blogger settings, I want my kids to have that same opportunity.

    I think the strongest tool in keeping kids safe on the internet is time limitations. The immediacy of relationships on the internet is addictive–but limits on screen time is a good way to keep virtual people from getting a foothold in with one’s children.

    And keeping our relationships with our children open and working. Children can set up online email and accounts like myspace in public libraries.

    My kids aren’t much older than yours. So far it’s working out, but I don’t think I have all the answers.

  21. I have gone back and taken out old pictures of my kids. I don’t put much out there anymore. A couple years ago when I started blogging, I didn’t think it was such a big deal- now everyone knows about blogs, and it is a bigger deal.

    I haven’t used my last name online, but I’m sure that wouldn’t stop someone from finding it out.

  22. All of this just creeps me out. I know of one family member who has encountered serious trouble in this area, and three mommy blogs that I read regularly over the years have made the switch due to creepy stalker guy. A post on one went so far as to link to the writer’s research.

    She was trying to see how far her child had been involved. She got to a page devoted to ch*ld l*ve, where even pediatricians were writing in to advise others on how to use children in this debase manner. Others gave opinion on blog use and still others on using public places where children congregate with their parents, “just use a telephoto lens”. Disgusting.

    We need to really wake up and be completely aware that it is not just blogs, but everywhere. Do we run and hide? No, however we should do all we can to protect our children, and never say it won’t happen to us. If we have been diligent, if/when the worse occurs at least we can say we did all we could to prevent it.

  23. I hesitated for a long time before even starting a blog for this very reason. I will not post pics of my kids ever and no names are ever used, nor will I state what city I live in. Thanks for some great info!

  24. Ok Johnna–I’m taking notes and trying to decide the course of action I want to take with my blog. Thanks for making the nagging worry in the back of my brain come to the forefront (therefore making me actually DO something about it).

  25. Hmmm.
    I blog about my chilren (13, 16, 22). No names.
    But you are right – I don’t have many peers.
    And I posted this:
    http://blackbird17.blogspot.com/2007/11/open-letter-to-flickr-users.html

    but I also posted photos, from the air, of places in my town – not that it would be EASY to find my location, but it was a bit of a breach of my usual privacy rules. (no one has my name or address)

    I’ve never posted a shot of any of our faces…and my flickr has been locked up for a long time.
    You raise lots of interesting questions
    How will Dooce’s daughter feel someday?

  26. I’d be interested in how other people handle the institution permissions too. It comes up more as your children get into the older grades.

    I’ve let the girl scouts and the school district have permission to put my child’s picture online in group photos. I’ve seen their other use of photos in the past–I think it does help that the pictures are group and unattributed.

    Sometimes the newspaper wants to print an attributed picture of a child. I’d be okay with that in many circumstance.

    Consider if you were the mother of Allison Stokke. Young Miss Stokke is/was a high school track & field athlete. Pictures taken of her in the context of sports journalism were reposted and linked to widely over the internet, with comments by guys that would be considered sexual harassment in most contexts. But do you wish you never let your daughter out of the house, and keep her from ever doing anything newsworthy? Of course not.

    What I don’t like about blogs in particular is they create an ongoing stream of information, with the promise of more to come in the ongoing posts. If someone is interested, often in a blog there are mentions of things that can be followed up on: not only where you live, but also your child’s hobbies and interests.

    Unless somebody can follow it up with internet-searchable terms, there’s just not that much information in an institutional group photo alone, especially unattributed.

  27. I’ve been thinking about this lately and your post, along with blackbird’s recent post, kind of brought it to a head for me. I blogged about this last night (and linked here). I went back and renamed all of my kids in my blog with fake names. I’m thinking about what to do with pictures. I’m getting a lot more traffic now, so it’s becoming more of a concern. I’m not taking my blog private, but I’m torn about the pictures.

  28. My kids are past the toddler stage. The blogosphere is a lonely place to be as far as parenting older children goes. I would like to know how other parents are handling really delicate issues with their tweens and teens, but it’s WEIRD. It’s not the same as what diaper you’re using or how many times baby wakes up in the night.

    Aside from personal email, I have tried to avoid using names and locations. There are two or three pictures of me here and there, but my “flickr with faces” is private and I put other pictures and videos behind a password on my blog. I try not to say, “We saw Dave Matthews Band live in concert last night!” because you can check that easily and see where we spent our evening.

    That said, give it a go. See what you can find on me, please. I want to know if I can live with that much or if I need to make some changes.

  29. I am thinking that much of this effort will be in vain a few years down the road. Regardless of how you try to hide yourself, you will always be visible online to some people. You give up your privacy to an extent the second you log on. If you cross the street, you might get hit. Are you NOT going to cross the street? C’mon, don’t be silly, of course you are. People blog (myself included) to be noticed by others. You can’t really ask to have the lights turned on and then cry and moan because the lights are too bright.

  30. ClistyB – I think there is some validity to what you’re saying. However, there is a difference between crossing the street (which may indeed be a very big deal – like for food or medicine) and blogging personal, identifiable details on a website that is designed to be archived and searched.

  31. Ok, I’ll bite – can you find me? I try to be as clandestine as possible, but the site is primarily for family members and friends, most of whom don’t have google accounts or don’t know how to set them up. I’d love to hear back from you.

  32. Oh goodness. I hate this topic… because it is so hard to decide where to draw the line. I have friends that blog everything… info, names, locations… that seriously makes me so nervous. I also recently hounded my sister in law because their blog title includes their last name and she puts details like name of preschool in her posts. I post anonymously… no use of my name, or husband’s first name… I do use my kids first names. No location, and no mention of anywhere close by. I try to be really protective of the whats and wheres that I mention on my blog. I do post on my blog. I refuse to have anything like a flickr account that allows public access to my pictures, so the only pictures anyone can see are the ones that I put on the blog… the ones that I post on the blog I add watermarks – I know there are people out there who can remove watermarks, and I guess some creep could still look at the pictures, but I thought maybe watermarks would atleast deter anyone from stealing the picture and claiming it as their own. So, that’s what I do.

    I would totally be interested in knowing if you can determine anything about me from my blog. Shock me, scare me… whatever it takes. I would rather be chastised and then be safe, then be careless and wind up sorry.

  33. Hey everybody,

    If you use a WordPress blog that is locally hosted (not hosted at WordPress.com) you can install the following find and replace plugin:

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/search-and-replace/

    This will let you use the admin panel in your WordPress blog to search for terms and replace them with other terms. Use this to search for your city name, your children’s names, or any other identifiable information that you think may be in your posts. You can search in posts, titles, excerpts, comments, comment-authors, comment-emails an comment-urls.

    I am not affiliated with this plugin; However I think it is useful to those bloggers who use WordPress and who want to become more anonymous.

  34. coolbeans: exactly–blogs are designed to be archived and searchable.

    Teah, MommyJ, and Allyson: You will be my last three blog shakedowns. I’ll get to it later this week, sorry for the delay.

    a husband who calls his wife a nervous one: uh, somehow your comment sounds like there are weird power dynamics in your relationship. ick.

    Inexperienced Dad: great resource, thanks for pointing us to it.

  35. Maybe you and I read different blogs, but I know PLENTY of moms of teens that blog and post pictures of their kids, including Yvonne of Joy Unexpected. I do, and I have no problem at all with it. My kids and their friends read my blog all the time. It’s not a big deal, and I’m not sure why you’re assuming that it is a universal problem. If you don’t want to blog about your kids, don’t. That’s fine. But it’s not fine to make assumptions that moms with reading kids take their blogs private because they’re frightened of the big bad internet. Quite untrue!

  36. Honestly people… all I need is one name and a state, or two names, and a vague idea of your age. PeopleFinder dot com will find you. They will find all of your past addresses and aliases even. I know. That’s how I tracked down the 7 other people I went to highschool with in 95 a few years back.

    Privacy is such an illusion. I do my best not to post my exact location. I use cyber-names for my kids on my blogs, and have a protected one for really embarrassing stuff. I do post photos, but only directly to my blog, not at flickr.

    I had used my name in a few home businesses… so it’s out there. Plus my blog url is my last name. I do geneaology research when I can. DH’s name is so rare, that having the url makes it easy for long lost relatives to find me. Also makes privacy difficult to maintain.

    Privacy is an illusion. I don’t go out of my way to make it easy for someone to find me. But I don’t try to fool myself into thinking no one ever will either. For now, I read up on my fav bloggers & their stalkers, and thank the heavens that I’m not that popular yet. *S*

  37. You’re willing to search through my blog and try to figure out who I am and where I live? Cool!!
    I’ve been wanting to know if I’ve been keeping things anonymous/vague enough.
    If you figure it out send me an email with the details.

  38. Very interesting post. I do not have children, but if and when I do, I will not be blogging about them, or sharing pictures of them.

    Blogger has a relatively new feature called Blogger Play (http://play.blogger.com/) which is a continous slide show of the pictures people are posting on their blogs. One evening I sat for about 15 minutes and watched the pictures (please note, they do have some filters in place but they do not guarantee anything. I didn’t see any objectionable pictures, but it is possible they are there). I would guess that 50% of the pictures were of babies and children. Blogger Play is completely user friendly, which means you can go backwards, and you can click on the pictures and go directly to the blog which posted them. Not only did I see pictures of babies and children, I saw people in their front yards with their house number displayed, and other pictures that would make people easy to find. Truly, I felt sick to my stomach after watching this slide show, just realizing much people are putting themselves out there for the world to see, and they don’t even realize it!

    Oh, and I’ll chime in that comments are searchable. Maybe not from your blog header, but I routinely have hits to my blog because of comments people have made.

  39. Johnna, this post has inspired several of our friends/relatives to go private. I will continue to reference it kindly to those who may not realize the dangers of too-open blogging. Thank you!

  40. Your post has reinforced the fact that if we join the WWW, we make a trade-off of losing our privacy. No matter how “private” or “restrictive” we try to make it, once we have an electronic signature, we aren’t anonymous any longer. Sometimes, it can be dangerous. But usually it isn’t a problem. Those article links you inlcluded were really interesting. It makes me wonder if I should keep my Flickr account?

  41. Soprano, you can make your Flickr account work for you, it just takes some extra steps. Any picture you don’t want blog visitors to see needs to be classified as private, or in a private album. Because strange lookie-loos like me will follow your pictures to your flickr account, and browse the rest of what you’ve got up publicly there.

  42. Vox is another good option for those who want to combine blogging and photos (and short video) with privacy controls. What’s more, it allows each piece of content to have a different privacy setting so theoretically you could post info open to the public, open to a diverse set of online acquaintances, open only to close friends and family and open to only you.

  43. I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t come up, but what about speaking up for the church as Elder Packer has encouraged us to do? How can you be an example of a woman happy to be a stay at home mom (as I am) if you don’t want anyone to know you have children?

    ClistyB is on the right track, privacy is an illusion. Your child could be the target of a preditor far more easily at the park than on cyber space (in the manner you specifically referenced- from mom’s blog). Yes there are certain sensible things you should do, but to hide is ridiculous. Teaching your children the basics about safety is as important as thinking about what you post.

    On a side note, I have a friend who had to take her blog private because she is RS pres and someone in her ward read a post and was offended. Of course ‘the offended one’ ran to the bishop who then asked my friend to make it private. To this day she still can’t figure out what was so offensive. Nothing like standing up to be counted, in private.

  44. You can blog about being a mom without posting pictures of the children. I’ve never seen pictures of Julie B. Beck’s children.

    There is something about blogging that is a call for attention–I don’t want to be inadvertently marketing my children along the way. And, as my children are getting older, they have their own social reasons not to want to be posted about, under any nickname.

    I made this post almost a year ago. I see more of the other side now, but not enough to overcome the ick factor of putting any pictures of my own children on the internet.

    I’m sorry your friend was asked to seclude her blog. I wish we’d all stand up to people who complain to leaders instead of speaking to each other like normal people. Or like people who’ve read D&C 42:88.

  45. Does Sister Beck have a blog?

    I went private with my blog last fall after getting a post by some guy with an ad on their blog “datenicewives.com,” and a weird spam after I posted the first pictures of our newborn son. I am enjoying feeling a little more safe that way, and I think most people I’ve invited to my blog don’t mind that they have to log in to read it. I should emphasize “a little more” because at least two people I’ve invited have no qualms about showing my blog to other people. Duh.

    It seems ridiculous for someone to complain to the bishop about somebody’s blog–good grief!

  46. I put up a picture of my kids every day on my mommy blog. My husband is deployed, and the blog is the best way to get pictures to him. He can’t download big email attachments. I use our real first names, but try to leave identifying details fuzzy. No weirdos have showed up yet.

    Some of the other moms in the battalion have information about how long their husband is gone right on the front page. I don’t say anything about the fact my husband is on the other side of the world, but it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out if someone read my blog regularly.

    I count on the fact that there are a million blogs to help with privacy. Out of all those available, why would anyone pick me? I’ll worry more about weird neighbors in real life.

  47. Melinda, if you want to know if weirdos are visiting your blog, checking the comments won’t tell you anything. (In fact Wendy, I wouldn’t consider spam comments evidence of attention either.)d

    If you want to know if you’re developing a fanbase, start checking out the statistics on your blog visitors and visits. I like http://statcounter.com/ and have been using it for years. google.com/analytics/ is great too, and a newer kid on the free-stats block.

    The neat part is, you’ll probably be able to see in the stats exactly when your deployed husband sees the kids’ pictures.

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