The image-theft risks of oversharing family photos online

We all know someone from our social media accounts that we consider a bit of an over-sharer. You know… the one whose photos make you think: “why on earth did you feel the need to share that with us!”.

What started out as a means to share statuses and thoughts or life events, has quickly become a way to document family life too. Those cute new school year pictures, child model shots, and behind-the-scenes comedy snaps – they all naturally make their way off our smartphones and onto a Facebook wall, Pinterest board, Instagram post, or tweet somewhere.

Seeing all our family, friends, and colleagues’ children online might feel normal now, especially since the coronavirus pandemic where the lines blurred digitally. But to what extent do we need to be careful when it comes to sharing pictures of our children, and how many of us have considered image theft as a real danger?

How often are parents posting pictures of their children online?

 

Our recent survey of parents* reveals the shocking truth at the sheer volume of family photos making their way into the public eye. The average parent posts 6.6 photos on social media in a month, making parents and children one of the biggest at-risk category groups when it comes to pictures being stolen online.

The survey showed that 70% of parents surveyed were regularly uploading pictures of their children online.

Gen Z parents (aged 18-24) have grown up much more familiar with social media than older counterparts and naturally were also twice as likely to post pictures of their kids online. A staggering 94% of parents this age were posting 1 – 6 pictures a month, compared to the parental average of 55%!

The coined, popular term ‘insta-mum’ refers to the growing volume of mums who are well-known for living their family life out daily on the Instagram social media platform; sharing everything from tantrums, paid ads, milestone moments, dinners and routine. But there is a concern that image theft and oversharing will impact these children later in life when their face or photos are recognized beyond the private family photo album.

One-third of parents did not think their children would be bothered at all of their online exposure when older, with 1 in 10 admitting they had not even considered their child’s future opinion at all.

Social media; the family connection savior during the coronavirus pandemic

There are many obvious dangers of uploading pictures of children online; things like school uniforms giving away location details for example. But there is a growing concern and unknown risk for image theft and unauthorized use of family photos.

Naturally, this increases as more and more people use social media to stay digitally connected during the covid-19 pandemic. The majority of parents now work from home and are juggling home-schooling and entertainment, and social media is the most convenient way to communicate with friends and family en-masse.

2 in 5 (42%) parents surveyed said they now share more photos and family life online than before covid-19 lockdowns, with fathers being most likely to do this. According to our research too, dads have been uploading more in the past year since isolation and lockdowns, and are twice as likely as mums to post “much more” than before.

What parents need to consider before uploading photos online

General understanding of social media platforms and better knowledge of image theft in all contexts is recommended. Here are five key tips for mums and dads to consider before uploading online:

1. Consider if social media posting is always necessary

With lots of great tools and apps available, ask yourself if a public post is the right method for sharing? If you want to share a birthday picture, fancy dress outfit or milestone with family or friends, consider an exclusive group chat on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger rather than a public post.

2. Know your rights on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

Given the lockdown, many journalists have turned to social media to source news and viral stories. Take the BBC interview where the children stormed the room and were taken out; these quickly were shared on TikTok and went viral. Know the rules and regulations of image theft for if your images are used elsewhere without your consent.

3. Consider the shot and avoid it being “steal-worthy”

As above, news outlets and brands are always looking for real-life and lifestyle shots for their social media or website. When you tagged that wellie brand, did you want your family walk image shared to thousands? Simple things like wearing different brands in a picture make it unappealing to brands. If you have a large following or lifestyle blog, consider adding your name or copyright over an image or stamped in the corner. This is advisable for all professional family photographers too.

4. Make your accounts private and consider location tags

If it is possible, it is always best to try and keep your social media accounts private. Not only does it make it harder then for images to be copied and stolen, but you also have the power over who sees and accesses these. And when it comes to debates around consensual posting of children and their concerns later in life, risks have been minimized and avoided. Removing location tags, also decreases the chance of images being found or misused, and stops the information oversharing by users.

5. Use an image monitoring service

This is the most efficient and quickest way to stay alerted of where your images are being used online so you can be flagged with misuse issues as soon as they happen.

 

Parental Q&A with Pixsy’s CEO, Kain Jones

It’s no secret that social media and the digital world we now live in means we live much more of our life exposed and accessible than ever before in human history. But when is the right time to draw a line, and what are the risks of having.

Is it safe to post pictures of my children online?

Well, that depends… Generally sharing photos of your personal life and your family with your close friends and family poses little risk. Limiting who can see those images is an important step to having some control.
We always recommend only posting an image publicly (security settings of the profile, or if the page is accessible to public traffic) if you are comfortable with that photo potentially ending up on any other site on the internet.
When it comes to the internet, you should plan for the worst and hope for the best. Ask yourself, would I be comfortable with a stranger having access to this photo.

Personally, I only share photos of my close personal life with close friends and family in a private Google Photos album or directly in a group message in iMessage/WhatsApp.

What are the long-term considerations of posting photos online?

The speed and scale of the internet and social media is leaving many of us concerned about what our digital footprints will look like in the future. Some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want images you are posting today to still be accessible on Facebook in 10 or 20 years’ time?
  • What if it’s a social platform or account you no longer have access to, or lost the email address or password?
  • Will you remember every account or platform you have used over the last 20 years?
  • What if the platform is acquired by a company you don’t like or in a country without data protections?
  • What if your family or children run for an important job or public office in the future, and these images are found and used against them?
  • Keeping control of your digital footprint and digital lives is something that we should all be very vigilant about. Only share what you are comfortable with someone else having access to, creating a copy or, still existing in 10 years.

What can you do if your image has been stolen from social media?

If your image is posted online without your permission, as the rights-holder (if you created that image), you have the legal right to request for the image to be removed (taken down). Most websites, social media platforms, and web hosting providers have clear procedures for requesting a takedown or claiming a copyright infringement has occurred. You will be asked to provide evidence that you are the rightful owner/creator of the image, and this will usually be possible by providing a copy of the original photo that would include the metadata from the original image file.

Caution: This process can take weeks or months (meaning the image is still online during this time), and they may reject your request if they don’t accept the evidence. The uploader who you are making the request against may also counter the claim.

Many websites on the internet are not run by reputable companies that follow takedown procedures or laws. Meaning, it would be next to impossible to contact them or for them to process your claim. In these circumstances, you are left with few options other than to take legal action if the host or operator can be found.

There are websites that exist solely to scrape content from Instagram (and others) and create a copy site of each profile on various websites. Every image uploaded to Instagram automatically gets copied to these scraper sites by scripts and bots. They exist without terms and conditions, without privacy policies, without takedown procedures, and without company contact information. While Facebook, Instagram, and others are always working to prevent this, it’s a game of cat and mouse, and your content is being caught in the middle.

Another option would be to use a legal or takedown service that will manage the process for you. DMCA.com or Pixsy.com are good options.

What if I am a professional family photographer?

Ensure you have explicit consent from your clients and/or build into your contracts with them, including permission to post such images online. Consider if you need to post every image publicly, or just a sample to showcase your work or the project.

Remove any personal information, family names, location, and remove location metadata from the images. Use an image monitoring or protection services so you know where your images are appearing online.

What are my protection or copyright rights when sharing pictures of my family online?

As the creator or rights holder of an image, legally they are your images to choose what to do with. When you click the button on the camera or phone, you have the copyrights automatically assigned to you (at the moment of creation) and under the law, you can decide what happens with that image. Unless you grant or assign the rights to another person, you retain these rights. Learn more about copyright here.

While you may share content online, or post in a group, the legal rights always remain – unless you agree to a contract or terms that state otherwise. Myth buster: Uploading to Facebook or Instagram does not mean to sign over your rights to those platforms. You still retain the copyrights as the creator.

As the creator or rights holder, you can submit takedown requests, requests for content to be deleted or returned, and you can start legal proceedings to enforce your rights (in some cases you might be able to claim compensation).


Naturally, parents want to share pictures of their children and keep family members updated, but it is important to know the risks associated with this, and more importantly; your rights if the worst was to happen.

If you have any more questions, have been a victim of image theft, require image monitoring services, or help with takedown notices, then please get in touch with our team today.

*Survey was conducted in February 2021 in partnership with OnePoll. 1,000 UK parents with children under 16 years old were surveyed.


Also published on Medium.