Helpless bunnies released on the scary Intarweb
July 25, 2006 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Am I dumb for being paranoid about putting pictures of my kids on the net?

I've got three young (3, 5, 7) and beautiful daughters, and it'd be fun to have a family blog with pictures of our various misadventures. However, I can't get past my paranoia of preverts, misuse from something like the SA crowd, or nasty fellow students sometime in the future digging up pics from a cache and using them for some nefarious end.

Is this dumb? Is this smart? Has anyone seen the above actually happen? I know there are a bajillion people putting kid pics out there, but there are a bajillion^2 people with bad intentions.
posted by BruceL to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that bad stuff is unlikely but not impossible. Keep your blog as anonymous as possible; post pictures but don't use the kids' names and don't say anything specific about where you live or your job or anything like that. Or you could try having it password protected if you just want to share this stuff with a few friends or something.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:45 PM on July 25, 2006

I'm fairly sure you could password a livejournal account or a flckr account so that only those that you want could see them. Or you could clog up everyone's email box with the photos.
posted by bigmusic at 10:45 PM on July 25, 2006

Yeah, just use a CMS that hides certain aspects of the site (eg pictures) unless someone is logged in or has certain permissions. Then, only give those things to family. I use Expression Engine for exactly this.
posted by dobbs at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2006

If it makes you uncomfortable, that's sufficient reason to not do it.

But remember the small-fish-big-ocean aspect to it all: there's a lot of internet out there and you're only a very small piece of it. Even people deliberately looking for this kind of thing aren't likely to locate you.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:00 PM on July 25, 2006

If you would like you could create a flickr account, and there are settings to allow photos only to be visible by "friends" or "family", and then when you upload photos you can specify whether or not friends or family can view it, or you can set photos as totally private and only mail direct links to the pictures to your relatives.
posted by atom128 at 11:09 PM on July 25, 2006

There are much worse things out there than the SA crowd - if you have to do it, do it anonymously.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:13 PM on July 25, 2006

What Mr. Den Beste said. It seems to me that this is similar to worrying about your name, phone number and address showing up in the white pages of your local telephone book. I suspect that for every bajillion kid pics posters out here on the internets, there's at most a bajillion^-2 people with bad intentions.
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:15 PM on July 25, 2006

Just keep the address relatively secret, lock it down as friends only, and nobody will see it but those you want to give access to.
posted by tomble at 11:37 PM on July 25, 2006

It would be one thing if only human beings searched the Web for content, but for many years, there have been programs of various degrees of sophistication and focus to do this, and any Web site with .jpg files in its directory structures, that is not properly secured, will be crawled and indexed by many services and private parties, in a time frame of weeks at most, and more likely hours or days. So, I don't agree with those who say that you are only a grain of sand on a big beach of a Web.

"Password" protecting a directory via .htaccess mechanisms can slow the indexing and caching processes down, but won't necessarily stop them. Adding server side programming to redirect third party requests by URL and http-request header filtering, and/or provide the pictures only as a server side include, will slow down the indexers some more. Eventually, you'll get to some level of image protection versus programming effort and maintenance trouble that you deem satisfactory, and it either remains secure, or you lose control of your content.

But you can lose control of digital content so many ways besides Web sites these days!

If you e-mail photos to relatives, can you insure that they won't innocently post them to the Web themselves, or pass them on in e-mail to others who will? Can you insure that 3rd parties never take photos of your daughters, and use them as they please? (This is increasingly hard to control, with the proliferation of DSLR cameras, long telephoto lenses, and image manipulation software, if your kids play outside, or in public areas and parks.) If you carry copies of family photos on a laptop or PDA, can you insure that the device protects them completely, if it is lost or stolen? If you have to have a computer fixed, can you prevent image files stored on it from being accessed by repair personnel?

So I think you should try to take a rational view of the matter, and err, slightly, on the side of caution. I'd be careful with distributing digital image files, but send family prints often. If I wanted to set up a family only Web site, I'd spend the money and the time to be sure it was hosted commercially and properly secured, and I would then audit those security and content controls at least annually. I'd watch my server logs closely and constantly, and follow up promptly on any unexplained access. And I'd teach my kids and family about prudent use of the Web, and how to clear browser caches, etc.
posted by paulsc at 11:43 PM on July 25, 2006

I had pics of my girls posted to a Gallery page on my site. Looking through my referral logs, I found that people on an incest webpage were going through them and talking about them in a chat. The pics are password-protected now.
posted by Addlepated at 11:44 PM on July 25, 2006

What is the SA crowd? Perhaps I'm just being an idiot but I can't work it out.
posted by dance at 12:28 AM on July 26, 2006

What is the SA crowd?

I think it means Something Awful, and refers to said site's propensity for photoshopping.
posted by advil at 12:33 AM on July 26, 2006

There is nothing inherently wrong or dangerous with posting photos of your family on the web. Giving out too much information relating to them might put them at risk. So someone photoshops your kids pics, it's not the end of the world.

You don't have to even give out names in the pictures descriptions, just refer to them as the youngest daughter, the middle daughter or the eldest daughter. Or even if you have nicknames for them, post those instead. Those in the know will figure it out and those that don't won't. Give no information about state or city or even the family name.
posted by JJ86 at 5:58 AM on July 26, 2006

You could add a robots.txt file to your website. This would prevent the images and pages from being picked-up by Google and other well-behaved search engines, greatly lowering the chances of random people finding your pictures.

This requires that you have FTP access to wherever you're hosting your pages.
posted by justkevin at 6:05 AM on July 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

No, you are not paranoid. If it makes you uncomfortable, then there is no reason you should do it. Not when there is an easy alternative.

There are a ZILLION free places where you can put up family stuff for relatives etc. and restrict access to people of your choosing. Just use one of those.

If you need specific recommendations, I can look tonight after work. :)
posted by bim at 6:15 AM on July 26, 2006

I'd advise against putting them up in a public location -- anything that goes public on the internet even for a very short period of time runs the risk of being assimilated into the unforgetting, unforgiving mind of the 'net.

The small-fish big-pond rule is true for now, but what happens when your girls get a bit older? I'm not even talking teenage years, just old enough that there will be immature boys teasing them or spurned crushes looking for revenge -- for those boys the pond is quite a bit smaller, so to speak, and there'd be no real way to get the pics back once they fell into enemy hands.

That is the real "danger" here, in my mind -- perverts, etc., are low enough that they're not worth worrying about, but your childrens' peers may come to thank the day you put high quality, easily manipulable, and embarassing-to-a-kid pictures on the internet.
posted by little miss manners at 6:27 AM on July 26, 2006

I know there are a bajillion people putting kid pics out there, but there are a bajillion^2 people with bad intentions.

Wow. Do you really believe that?
posted by glenwood at 6:27 AM on July 26, 2006

glenwood: you missed a negative sign.

It's been a long time since I took math, so forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't

bajillion^-2 = 1/(bajillion^2)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:34 AM on July 26, 2006

Glenwood -- It really doesn't matter. It's totally irrelevant.

There is no compelling reason for a person to have to put their family photos up for public display. Why bother if it makes someone unhappy? It's not noble or heroic or promoting free speech or whatever to publicly display a person's photos. There really is no "upside" to offset any "downside" caused by the agita it gives the OP.

Do as you please with your photos, OP, and don't feel guilty. Life's too short to make yourself unhappy.:)
posted by bim at 6:35 AM on July 26, 2006

paulsc writes "Can you insure that 3rd parties never take photos of your daughters, and use them as they please? (This is increasingly hard to control, with the proliferation of DSLR cameras, long telephoto lenses, and image manipulation software, if your kids play outside, or in public areas and parks.)"

This risk hasn't got any worse since practically the debut of the 35mm SLR. Stuff like cheap 500mm reflex lenses and teleconvertors have been avalable for a long time.
posted by Mitheral at 6:56 AM on July 26, 2006

Your concerns are reasonable. I know that Tim Bray (one of the guys who wrote the XML spec and a blogger, presumably comfortable with himself on the web) never even refers to his child by name, much less posting pictures (and he's an amateur photographer).

That said, there are lots of ways already mentioned that you can put them up in a password-protected way. And even if they were wide-open, ask yourself "what's the worst thing that could happen?" If your answer is "I'd feel icky because someone did XYZ," well, that's not so bad.
posted by adamrice at 6:58 AM on July 26, 2006

Nowadays, it's the kids themselves posting most of the pics. Probably a little older than your daughters, but not by much. Cameraphones and such are making things very public.
posted by smackfu at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2006

I never refer to my kid by name on my site, and keep kidpix online with friends and family access. Nevertheless, for a while I had a picture of my daughter on my old website -- she's sitting at a table at Starbucks wearing a winter coat, and she has a cup of cocoa in front of her. It was a camera phone pic, so it was grainy and not very big at all. And I realize I'm totally biased, but it's cute.

Then one day, I looked at my logfiles and the picture was getting tons of hits -- to the point where bandwidth-wise, it was way ahead of anything else on my site. With a heavy heart, I followed the link. It turned out that someone on a heavily trafficked board in Qatar really liked Starbucks, and had a sig that was packed with various pictures of the logo -- including mine. Which, of course, also had my kid in it. I had fun creating a replacement image that solved the problem within hours (it was PG at worst).

I've got one up now where she's got a spiky hat on and she's making a face at the camera. If there's a message board in Qatar with a spiky-hat-funny-face enthusiast on it, I'm ready.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2006

Flickr is pretty good for this sort of thing; you can make photos as viewable for family only. This should be good enough security for you to keep complete strangers away if that is your wish.
posted by chunking express at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2006

Use robots.txt to try to keep stuff out of at least some search engines, and if you want to feel free to chat about family stuff on the site then definitely password protect it.

Although you shouldn't worry too much, it's important to consider how data is now indexed/stored/processed in ways people used to think weren't feasible, and extrapolate into the future. OCR will be used to grab text in images, facial recognition will associate personal data with pics, audio will be searchable, etc.

If I had a kid I'd keep their details and pics off the public 'net, if only to give them the freedom to make their own privacy choices later in life.
posted by malevolent at 7:35 AM on July 26, 2006

Somewhat interesting variant - what about photos of kids who are no longer kids? I.e., one's family photos from 20 years ago?

One might find, similarly, that undesirable elements are discussing those photos in undesirable ways ... is it different if the people represented in the photos are not actually that age any more?
posted by dmd at 8:00 AM on July 26, 2006

Bruce, you might like to try Vox, a new blogging program from the makers of Typepad and LiveJournal. Vox is a blogging platform, but it's also like Flickr, in that it lets you set privacy levels for individual blog entries. You can make it so that only friends and family can see certain entries, while everyone can see others.

If you want to give it a test drive email me (I'm at this name on gmail) and I'll shoot you an invite.
posted by nyterrant at 8:18 AM on July 26, 2006

I had the word "preteen" in my travel blog title, and those search terms made for interesting reading.

Maybe I'm a combination of stupid and lazy, but it didn't worry me much. No names were posted, but am sure some diligent Googling could locate all our details.

I think being heavily involved in home life (i.e., not three hours of unsupervised internet after school -- which is surprisingly common), living in a safe area, letting your kids know you are there for them, and keeping aware of the day-to-day influences in your children's lives (coaches, scoutmasters, etc.) is the way to keep kids safe from the creeps. But do what works for you and your family, and lets you sleep at night.
posted by mozhet at 9:45 AM on July 26, 2006

what atom128, chunkin et al said: flickr, visible only by friends/family

you have no idea what I've successfuly stored there
posted by matteo at 11:22 AM on July 26, 2006 is cool. you can create password-protected photo albums that you can also email to friends/family. they'll also send you 15 prints for free when you create an account for $1.99 s&h.
posted by aquanaut at 12:25 PM on July 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great replies, and it seems that the majority support at least the idea of being, maybe not paranoid but at least cautious.

The suggestions for some of the password-protected sites (include one emailed by someone not registered: JotSpot) all seem like great solutions; I just wonder whether paulsc's pretty dire warnings about protection-bypassing crawlers apply to the commercial sites too.
posted by BruceL at 5:54 AM on July 27, 2006

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