Friday, 28 February 2014 00:00

The dangers of photo sharing

A Picture is Worth…

The old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, has never been more relevant than today, but now it rings true for slightly different reasons. The sharing of photos online has become a universal passion, and just about anyone with an Internet connection and some sort of camera (which is pretty much everyone these days) now regularly posts and shares images on the Internet. Usually these images are aimed at friends and family, but often they end up having a life of their own, which at times can lead to some serious embarrassment, or even worse consequences in certain cases.

We love sharing photos - of ourselves, our friends, our children, our pets - even our food! Whether it’s showing our bare feet propped up in front of an idyllic holiday landscape, taking a sexy selfie and sharing it privately (we hope) with a lover, or proudly posting our latest culinary triumph on Facebook, we have become a society of what used to be known as “shutterbugs” (does anyone remember when cameras had shutters?).

Potential Consequences

photo sharingMost of what we post and share is innocuous and probably even fairly uninteresting to anyone other than our friends and loved ones, but there are images that can be used for reasons we never intended - and there’s precious little that we can do to protect ourselves from someone copying an image and using it for their own purposes, harmful or not, once we’ve shared or posted it anywhere online.

An image uploaded to the web can come back to haunt you, and often in very surprising ways. For instance, an image of yourself may end up used by some unscrupulous Internet marketer without your knowledge or consent. In fact, Google+ would love to do just that, and if you didn’t read the fine print and adjust your settings to prevent it, they can do so legally if you express a “like” for a certain product.

Tragedy and Exploitation

And sometimes this sort of appropriation and use of images for marketing can be a lot more pernicious than the sketchy Google+ practices that you at least ostensibly agreed to when you signed up. Consider, for instance, the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young Canadian girl whose image was stolen and used as a come-on for a dating site on Facebook.

Stealing and using an image in this manner would be outrageous enough under any circumstances, but concerning the Parsons incident, it was especially tragic and infuriating, considering the poor girl had recently committed suicide. And her suicide was the result of a gang rape, of which photos had been shared online, and the subsequent cyber-bullying that stemmed from the incident.

This is a shocking example, and it should be noted that those who used the image for the dating site were apparently unaware of the girl’s tragic story, but it underlines just how insensitive and exploitative some people are when it comes to misusing images online. Parsons’ case also illustrates how damaging photo-sharing can ultimately be, especially regarding young people.

Other Examples

Rehtaeh Parsons’ story is almost unspeakably tragic, but there are many other cases in which images shared online without a person’s consent have led to unfortunate outcomes, but luckily, most of the time the consequences are less extreme. However, unauthorized appropriation and use of images can easily cause embarrassment or even severe legal consequences.

Another disturbing recent incident involved a female Canadian youth who was convicted of child pornography after distributing nude images of another underage teen. The girl, whose name was not released because of laws protecting young offenders, had been given the images by the victim’s ex-boyfriend. The convicted teen shared the photos online accompanied with threats to the victim.

In yet another well-publicized case involving Canadian teens, a 15-year old girl named Amanda Todd committed suicide after being blackmailed, bullied and assaulted. While in 7th grade, Todd was talked into sharing topless photos with an online “friend” who subsequently posted the photos online, leading to a string of tragic events which eventually drove her to take her own life.

Vulnerable Teens

iconeCases such as the ones described above are thankfully relatively rare, but every teen faces the potential threat of having their posted images used to either bully or exploit them in one way or another. Kids (and adults too, for that matter) are often careless about what they share, and what may be intended for one person’s eyes only, may easily end up being spread far and wide, causing potential embarrassment or worse.

Kids grow up fast these days, and often engage in online behavior that would shock their parents, if they only knew, and often parents are unaware of what is really going on in their child’s online life. A recent study revealed that 70% of teens hide at least some of their online activities from their parents, and trends such as online “sexting” have become more and more prevalent over the past few years.

Peer pressure and the desire to appear “grown-up” can lead teens to potentially dangerous behavior online. Sharing photos is just one of the ways a teen can get into trouble. Cyberbullying is a big problem these days and 1 out of 4 teens report having been the target of online bullies.

How Can Parents Protect Their Children?

Discussing with your children the dangers of sharing photos online is the first step. Let them know that they can speak freely about any problems they may have, no matter how embarrassing. Help them to understand that anything they share online may end up being distributed widely, no matter how private they think their online communications and activities are. Even if their friends are trustworthy, accounts can be hacked and anything they post or share may be accessed by those who may use the material for nefarious purposes.

Most parents are way behind their children, regarding social networking and photo-sharing applications. The average teen knows far more about these platforms and the use of smartphones and other devices than the average adult, but they may be unaware of how dangerous the content they share may end up being. Parents should take the time to educate themselves about the kind of apps and social networks their kids are using. This is no easy task, considering new apps and other technologies are being introduced daily.

Monitoring Your Child’s Online Activity

Since it’s not always easy to stay informed about a child’s online behavior and the new technologies available to them, many parents have chosen to take a more active role in monitoring their kids. There are software package available for monitoring smartphone and tablet activity, and in truth, these “spyware” apps are probably the only way to get an accurate picture of what a child is really doing online.

iconeThere are a number of companies who offer cell phone tracker software that can be installed on a child’s smartphone or tablet. These spy phone apps are undetectable by the user of the targeted device and with them, a parent can discreetly monitor some or all of the activity that occurs on the phone or tablet.

Parents have the option of secretly monitoring calls and online activity, or they can let the child know that he or she is being monitored. Either way, these phone monitoring software packages can be a very effective means of making sure a child is not engaging in online behavior that could prove to be harmful to them.

How Do Cell Phone Trackers Work?

Most of the companies who provide this type of software or spyware offer monthly or yearly licences at a relatively low cost. Many offer similar features and most will allow a parent to view call information, emails and chat content, photos and videos shared and received and virtually all the activity that takes place on the device.

Other useful features include GPS location of the device; remote blocking of apps and website access; alerts when designated keywords and phone numbers are used - most spyware packages offer upgrades with advanced features which vary from brand to brand. Almost all of the spy phone apps offer enough basic features to effectively monitor a child’s online activity, but some parents may want the advanced functions that are available with the premium packages, which cost a little more.

When you purchase a spyware license, you will be able to install the app on the child’s smartphone and begin monitoring immediately. These apps are easy to install and use - you’ll be given a secured private account where you can log in to access a control panel which gives you access to the features and the recorded information from the targeted phone.

With a spy phone app, a parent can keep a close watch on what a child is sharing, and if there is any inappropriate behavior occurring, measures can be taken before things spin out of control. Though some parents may view this technology as an invasion of a child’s privacy, it should be taken into consideration that the stakes are high - in some of the tragic cases listed above, had these apps been installed and used by the parents, they could have conceivably saved a life.

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 12:16