Putting children first: a design pattern for parents and guardians who publish online images of their children
Please, no more photos…, by Paula FJ
This pattern highlights the tension between personal online identity authoring and the responsibility we have towards others when their identity is enmeshed with ours. Specifically, how parents and guardians mitigate the risks associated with publishing online images of their children and the resulting contribution they make to a child’s digital identity.
Margarita Pérez García, Steven Warburton, Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland, Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel, Yishay Mor. *Please ensure that the full development history remains with this pattern so that all authors are acknowledged.
Photographs have an important place in presenting, reflecting and understanding our identities, and in preserving our memories. The ease of capturing digital images combined with the proliferation of social sites and services for publishing them online make it is simple to share such content publicly on the Internet.
Parents and guardians who create an online identity that includes images and text about their children inevitably contribute to their children’s online presence. Parents and guardians can unknowingly participate in the construction of the digital identity of dependents who subsequently have little control over how they are presented or who they are presented to.
Whatever the reasons or justifications for the online publication of these images, the problem remains. An online picture of a child that is posted on the Internet contributes and/or interferes with that child’s online identity before they understand the implications and are able to build and manage their own digital identity. At worst these images can present a series of risks that need to be mitigated:
- Potential for abuse – this can be via cutting and pasting images, editing images or changing the context within which an image is viewed.
- Access to personal information – images can be used within flaming, stalking and cyber-bullying type behaviours.
- Identity theft – too much personal information can accidentally be made visible and lead to identities being stolen.
- Attraction of unsolicited communication – this could be to a parent or child represented in a given image via the online service in which the image resides, but this could also translate into tracing a person in the real-world if geotags (geographical identification metadata usually consisting of latitude and longitude coordinates) have been used.
- Misinterpretation – information may be inappropriately represented, errors amplified and false conclusions drawn, for example when images are taken out of their original context and aggregated into pornographic collections.
- Interference – images that persist over time have the potential to affect their adult life for good or ill. The created identity can interfere with the identity the children create for themselves in the future that will evolve over time as they play with their identity.
- Potential embarrassment of children in the short, medium and long term.
Parents and guardians have different reasons to publish photos of their children. They do not need any authorisation or a third person’s consent to do so – they are legally responsible and by default this includes the responsibility for their digital identity. The reasons for publishing images can be varied:
- Sharing our family life history with friends and family around the world. Often this includes non-digitally literate members who will not create an account on a photo-sharing service to access private photos and therefore images are left visible in the public domain;
- Sharing and reflecting on our lifestyle and identity as we navigate through life with children;
- For common good or social interest, for example by creating a portfolio of a rare health condition to solicit information and help.
Whatever the reasons that parents and guardians have, the online publication of photographs uncovers a number of tensions:
- The act of self-conscious identity development of the adult’s digital identity versus the contribution this makes to a minor’s digital identity, including the new perceptions and the impact of a public photo on the audience and the subject of the photo itself;
- Assuming full authority and control over a minor’s digital identity versus the lack of consent and informed judgement about that impact on the child’s identity;
- The persistent nature of online images that fix identity versus the dynamic and changing nature of a child’s identity and the freedom of identity play;
- Conflict between the parents and guardian’s personal benefit in building digital identities of familyhood and the potential dangers that are a child might become exposed to in this process;
These forces stress the need for negotiation and vigilance around any piece of visual information on the Internet that relates to a minor.
Theses issues are relevant to all parents and guardians who are legally responsible for the children within their care. More broadly, they also resonate with any situation where someone manages their own or another’s online identity and therefore have an ethical responsibility to consider issues such as the online safety of those they portray. Although this pattern is drawn from case-stories that focus on the practice of putting images of children online, it is applicable to many situations where the sharing of digital content impacts on others, with a particular poignancy to vulnerable populations.
When we refer to publishing images online we do mean the activity of uploading images that include parents with their children or depict children alone, into an online portfolio (e.g. blog, social network sites like Facebook, or a photo-sharing service such as Flickr or Picassa) where the content of these sites is potentially open to public view or can be accessed by Internet search engines or aggregation tools.
The children’s views and integrity must be respected. Put them first! Accept that managing online identities is an ongoing task that requires effort and vigilance.
- When choosing a service be aware of what kind of functionality the online photo management and sharing application offers. It is of utmost importance to choose a service that offers good privacy protection such as granular control over who can view your images.
- In Social Network Services (e.g. Flickr) use the privacy settings and the safety controls that are provided. Do not assume that privacy is the primary goal of any service provider.
- Limit the number of public photos in SNSs and make sure you set passwords or other security features to access these pictures. If the service doesn’t offer safety controls and granular access, then consider not using the service.
- Monitor any changes that the service provider may make to privacy controls in the future and review the implications in terms of access to your stored content.
- Change access permissions from public view to private contacts as necessary and do not forget to manage your network boundaries. Review your list of contacts and ask your self: ‘Who are my friends?’.
- Delete or hide photos that are vulnerable to dangers such as discrediting or suspicion.
- Add appropriate reproduction rights to your images e.g. All rights reserved or Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/)
- Prevent automated association in other peopls’s ‘favourite’ collections and galleries by monitoring activity, blocking favourites and altering default authorisation settings that allow your photos to be added to third person galleries.
- Use the service providers “report abuse” functionality to report any suspicious or unwanted activity from external parties or other site users.
- Digitally alter a photo to obscure identification of children that are included in photos with adults, for example by blurring facial features.
- Consult the child who is in the picture and check that they are happy to see it online.
- Monitor and control tagging of your photos by preventing automated and/or human generated tags being added that could be used to name people represented in the photos.
- Use geotagging with caution. If you are not sure what it does then leave it alone!
- Hide the photos of your children from public search engines.
- Avoid giving out too much information in photo titles, descriptions and comments.
This pattern is supported by two case-stories:
- Pérez Garcia, Margarita. (2009). Controlling Flickr Contacts in: The Pattern Language Network case stories repository. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://patternlanguagenetwork.myxwiki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Cases/ControllingFlickrContacts
- Fraser, J. (2009). Other people’s identities in: The Pattern Language Network case stories repository . Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://patternlanguagenetwork.myxwiki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Cases/otherpeoplesidentities
These two case-stories are completed with references to five others textual narratives:
- Brady, Christian. (2007, January 4). Why you can’t see pictures of my kids… in: Targuman. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://targuman.org/blog/2007/01/04/why-you-cant-see-pictures-of-my-kids/
- Camplese, C. (2007, January 31). Flickr You in: Cole Camplese: Learning and Innovation. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://www.colecamplese.com/2007/01/flickr-you/
- Couros, A. (2009, January 13). Flickr Perversion in: open thinking. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1203
- D’Arcy, N. (2007, February 1). Deflickring in: D’Arcy Norman dot net. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://www.darcynorman.net/2007/02/01/deflickring/
- Fraser, J. (2007, February 3). Pictures of children online in: SocialTech. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://fraser.typepad.com/socialtech/2007/02/pictures_of_chi.html
Though different, these case-stories complement each other by providing insights from differing perspectives about the use of social media. In particular the use of the online photo management and sharing application Flickr to publish images of family life, including those of children alone or with their parents. The case stories come with three visual narratives depicting (i) a family image taken out of context by being added to a child pornography collection (ii) a parent’s action statement against the open publishing of images of children (iii) and a photo from an art project ‘The Privacy of Our Kids in Flickr’ uses images of children deliberately published by parents under the Creative Commons licence By-SA-NC.
This pattern can be generalised to any situation where we produce content that references others and make it publicly visible, for example at a conference or workshop where we may take pictures of participants and outputs and put them up on Flickr. Other related patterns may arise from the following situations:
- Publishing compromising personal online images may be against social norms, cultural codes or have a negative impact on professional life
- Publishing online pictures of minors such as pupils and students
- The ethical considerations we need to address when we knowingly create content that will contribute to a third person’s online image
For this pattern two questions remain unanswered:
- Ethically, is it up to parents to create an ID for their children?
- At what point can a child be sensibly consulted for consent on the publication of an online picture depicting them alone or with an adult? Is there particular moment at which children should be engaged with these decisions?
Finally, what can we expect in the future. Perhaps one of the solutions we will see is the ability to add digital rights management (DRM) to an image that could allow for legacy photos to have their rights reassigned at a later date so that others can delete or manage them.
- Keeping Kids Safer on the Internet: Tips for Parents and Guardians, http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PageServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=3601
- Kids Online: Balancing Safety and Fun http://wiki.idcommons.net/Kids_Online and Kids Online Charter by IDcommons http://wiki.idcommons.net/Kids_Online_Charter
- Parents photographing and videoing school events, http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/wholeschool/familyandcommunity/childprotection/usefulinformation/photosandvideos/photoschoolevent/
- Protect Your Child From Identity Theft, http://www.parenttalktoday.com/parenttalk/2008/05/protect-your-child-from-identity-theft.html
- How safe are my children’s photos? Discussion thread in Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/help/forum/61339/?search=neighborhood
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives.
The production of this pattern involved 12 persons at different levels (authoring, review and shepherding) during 12 months, from January to December 2009.
The authors of the present version should be cited in the following order: Margarita Pérez García (primary author, led and was involved in the production of the pattern from the beginning to the end, throughout 3 workshops plus continuous personal research), Steven Warburton (shepherded the working groups during the development, and from the second workshop, contributed to its continuous improvement), Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland (authors in alphabetic order who participated in the first workshop where the pattern idea emerged); Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel, (authors in alphabetic order who participated in the second workshop where the pattern was improved), Yishay Mor (shepherd during the 3 workshops).
The first version of this pattern was developed during the 1st Eduserv Digital Identities workshop in January 2009 organised by the Rhizome project (http://www.rhizomeproject.org) and is the product of a working group that included: Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland, and Margarita Pérez García. For more information see: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2009/06/22/case-story-workshop/
The second version of this pattern was developed during the 2nd Eduserv Digital Identities workshop in March 2009 and is the product of a working group that included: Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel and Margarita Pérez García. For more information see: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2009/08/05/scenarios-patterns-workshop/
The complexity of this pattern demanded a number of revisions. It was clear that two or possibly more patterns sat within the same problem space: online publication of images of our children; publishing of photos of pupils and students; potential contributions to a third person’s online identity; and publishing personal images that are vulnerable to discrediting or suspicion. The final version of this pattern therefore focuses solely on the online publication of images of children by parents and guardians. It was prepared by Margarita Pérez García and presented to the 3rd Eduserv Digital Identities ‘Writers workshop’ and has been updated by Margarita Pérez García and Steven Warburton after shepherding by Jim Hensman, Yishay Mor, Andy Powell, Megan Smith, and Steven Warburton. For more information see: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2009/12/30/writers-workshop/
- MLA: Pérez García, Margarita, et al. “Putting Children First.” The Rhizome Project. N.p., 01 01 2010. Web. 11 Jun 2010. <http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/>.
- APA: Pérez García, M., Warburton, S., Archer, P., Fraser, J., Griffin, S., Hesman, J. et al. (2010, January 01). Putting children first. Retrieved from http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/
- CHICAGO (Documentation 1): Pérez García, Margarita and others. “Putting Children First.” January 1st, 2010.http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/ (accessed 11 June, 2010).
- CHICAGO (Documentation 2): Pérez García, Margarita, Steven Warburton, Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland, Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel and Yishay Mor. “Putting Children First.” January 1st, 2010.http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/ (accessed 11 June, 2010).
- ASA: Pérez García, Margarita, Steven Warburton, Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland, Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel and Yishay Mor. “Putting Children First.” January 1st, 2010.http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/ (accessed 11 June, 2010).
- TURABIAN: Pérez García, Margarita, Steven Warburton, Phil Archer, Josie Fraser, Sally Griffin, Jim Hensman, Mark Kramer, Finbar Mulholland, Leon Cych, Jonathan Poole, Mira Vogel and Yishay Mor. “Putting Children First.” The Rhizome Project. Available from http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/. Internet; accessed 11 June 2010.
For more information on citing multiple authors see: Articles with More than Three Authors
Design pattern methodology and participatory pattern workshops for digital identity see the Rhizome Project website at http://www.rhizomeproject.org See also the Pattern Language Network database at http://purl.org/planet/Main/
Contacts (and for comments and suggestions)
- Margarita Pérez García, MENON Network EIGG, BE: contact(@)margaperez.com or margarita.perez(@)menon.org
- Steven Warburton, King’s College London, UK: steven.warburton(@)kcl.ac.uk
For commenting this post, please go to: http://digitaldisruptions.org/rhizome/2010/01/01/puttingchildrenfirst/