Flickr Perversion

Yesterday, I received an email notice saying that a few of my Flickr photos had been favorited. These particular photos were of my children, mostly of my daughter. Every time this happens, I go to see who the Flickr user is, and most of the time, it is a family member, a close friend, or someone I know through Twitter (or other social network). I did not recognize the user in this particular case, and when I went to see their photos, the Flickr message alerted me that none of the user’s photos were available. Seeing as my photos had been favorited, I went to see what other photos had been marked as favorites by this user.

My jaw dropped to the floor.

What I saw was three pages of favorited photos of preteen girls, most shots in bathing suits or with little clothing. Had I viewed any of these photos individually, isolated from the others, I am sure that this same feeling of disgust would not have come over me. But these photos, viewed together, favorited by some anonymous user, told a very different story. These photos of these girls were without a doubt being sexualized, and my four-year-old daughter was amongst these images.

Note: The images I include below are the actual screenshots. My daughter does not appear in these images, and she was the only girl in these photos that was well clothed. I have included these screenshots because I think it is important to get a sense of what happened here. However, I have significantly reduced the size of this image for (hopefully) obvious reasons.

girls 3photo on Flickr

These photos are legal. The actions of the user who favorited these is also legal (although incredibly disgusting). I did not want photos of my child to appear here. So, this is what I did:

1) Blocked the user. This means my photos would no longer appear in the list. However, if your photos are viewable to the public, this means they can still be viewed, just not favorited.
2) Contacted Flickr: I reported this user, and within a couple of hours, the user was taken down.

End of story? Nope.

I get another email, telling me that more of my daughter’s photos had been favorited. Same story. I check out the user, no photos, but many favorites. It gets worse.

Small Screenshot of Photos Favourited by Flickr Pervert

This time, there were four pages of girls favorited by this user. The girls were a bit older, but in the majority of the photos, the subjects were handcuffed, often in sexually provocative poses. Again, my daughter’s photos appeared. I blocked the user, contacted Flickr. Same deal. But obviously, that’s not enough.

I admit, I live my life (in the) Open. I have been lucky that I have never had to block a person from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc., before this time. Sure, there has been the odd griefer here and there, but usually, these problems resolve themselves if you deal with them appropriately, or in some cases, ignore them. My belief is that in all aspects of life, we should not have to live our lives in fear. I’m an idealist. I believe in the power of good people, and I have been lucky enough to have been surrounded by good people in both my temporal and virtual realities.

But these types of incidents shake up everything one believes. So now, rather than provide answers, I want to provide some questions for anyone willing to respond. Here are some of my questions.

1) What must parents know about the realities of the Internet in regards to how we deal with the photos (and identities) of our children?
2) What are the benefits of an open vs. a closed reality? Are the benefits of openness (e.g., in regards to our families) worth the risks? And, what are the credible risks?
3) What precautions should we take, or perhaps, what precautions do you take in the presentation/development of your family’s digital identity?
4) What rights and responsibilities do we have as parents to protect the digital identities of our children?
5) How do we proceed from here? How do we help other parents to understand these important issues?

I’d love to hear from you. While openness will be a continued theme in my educational life, I continue to rethink these philosophies on the most personal of levels. It is also my belief in openness that guides me in telling this story. I believe that we need to face these issues head on, inform others, raise awareness, and work to solve these problems together.

153 thoughts on “Flickr Perversion

  1. Oh man. I don’t have any children, yet, but this is.. not right.. :(

    I think your analysis at the end of your post is interesting. I’m reading a book, Born Digital, that actually covers a lot of what you’re talking about here. Privacy, security, these are all things the new digital citizens don’t know much about. These are things we as parents, educators, will have to discuss at some point in time…

    I was in a discussion with my dad about this. He’s 54, I’m 29. He finds it amazing that I’m willing to put pictures of me, my family, friends etc… wonders what the world is coming to. I do it because that’s how I grew up. I do it because I like to connect and share.

    It’s the nature of the internet.. it’s the nature of online social communities. It brings people closer together, but unfortunately it’s inclusive.. like society is getting one great big bear hug from the Internet, pushing everyone closer together… even the unsavory people :(

  2. Hi Alec!

    Horrible finding indeed. As a father of baby girls I understand your feelings completely.

    My thoughts on this can be wrapped up in one word with broader dimensions; Diacrisis.

    One interpretation of this ancient ascetic virtue in the current context would be avoid doing/telling/publishing things that might be harmful (such as by inflaming a perverse passion) to others. Leading an open life doesn’t exclude a personal sphere away from (or only sporadically entering) publicity.

  3. Alec,
    Thanks for sharing this controversial post and starting this important discussion.

    In an age where almost anything and everything can be captured, remixed, and rebroadcast, I protect the privacy of my personal life and that of my family even more than ever.

    In regards to social networking, as a father of two very young children, I share videos and photos with only trusted friends and family. I consider social networking sites such as Facebook and Picasa as remarkable tools for connecting with loved ones with whom I would otherwise lose touch. I use other tools such as Twitter for my professional development and making contact with new folks, and these two sets of tools never intersect.


  4. Alec,

    I empathize and share your frustration. I too have 2 daughters and not sure how I would handle this violation. Some nay-sayers might argue, “hey you put them out there,” but a normal healthy person would not dream of doing what this…person…did. And that’s the sad thing…we have to anticipate for the sick-o’s. I would like to applaud you on your final plea. You took an angry, frustrating, helpless moment, and you looked beyond, looked to help, open it up, and turn it into a “teaching moment.” I have to be honest, I can take my usual democrat, educator stand, and say “everything should be open.” But when it’s YOUR child…things start taking on a different look. Education and awareness to our children, as well as a bit of caution can go along way. This is a huge issue, especially since more states (including ours) is making internet safety mandatory in schools.

    I admire your ability to turn this into something constructive. I hope the problem is resolved swiftly.


  5. Pingback: Flickr perversion: a response «

  6. Thanks for opening the conversation on this issue and sharing your experience Alec.

    I’ve struggled with this topic and have been working on a post about it for a while now – I need to finish it and publish it – this conversation has given me the encouragement to do that.
    Whilst I’m like you – adore the fact that we can work and learn in an environment that allows us to connect and share – I have always felt uneasy and loathe to share my family photos over the internet and even my friends photos (without their permission). I do upload my children’s photos to flickr (but always mark them private) so that we can continue to share our life overseas with our family & friends back home. My most major concern has always been exactly what you experienced with your daughter’s photos.
    There are photos of my son on flickr that have been taken in his classroom – and published with no permission asked nor granted, no permission forms signed and no information regarding the fact that this will occur. Discovery occurred when reading their class blog.

    For a while now I’ve wrestled with my opinion of this as a parent wanting to protect her child from preverts and my work as an educator who fully embraces 21st century digital learning in a safe environment and manner. (Hence the blog post in progress!) Whilst I am still not entirely comfortable with his photos being out there, I have not made a final decision about whether I will ask for his photos to be removed where his face is clearly identifiable.

    In our classroom we do not upload, or share photos that identify students, photos are taken in such a way that no one is identifiable. We try not to show faces, taking photos from behind or from such a distance that faces can not been seen clearly. We try to focus the photos on our learning rather than ourselves. These guidelines are posted on our classroom blog and parents are informed, contracts signed etc.

    Now, I’m off to finish that post!

  7. This is just an awful thing to happen, and I think it is a lesson in awareness. You were fortunate enough to understand how to use Flickr and investigate those who favourite your images. It does make me concerned for those who are not so aware. I think we need to be cautious, rather than cut off access all together. I started to answer your questions, but it was too much for a comment box, so have responded to your post on my blog here

    I am sad to hear of this happening to anyone as I too prefer to think of our communities as fundamentally good.

  8. The thing is, you can’t hide.

    The threat to children is as great – indeed, greater – from close family and friends as it is from strangers.

    Creating a climate of fear in which everyone hides their kids simply creates a safe haven for those people, and a prison for their children.

    Openness is not the enemy.

    Openness is what protects these kids.

    Openness is what draws people out into the open, like those Flickr photo collectors (you can be sure they are known to police, or at least, that they should be).

    And openness is what allows you – and others – to talk to your kids, to give them the tools to protect them from danger, to given them the knowledge and the empowerment to stand up to those people whether they are total strangers or close family.

    That’s my view, at least.

  9. Parents should be aware of different levels of sharing on social networking sites and talk explicitly with their kids about how and why they are sharing media online. Not all my pics on Flickr are public; and I use the family/friends settings to group contacts accordingly so that I can share on separate levels.

    More to the point, your situation is symptomatic of how young girls are objectified in society as a whole. I have vivid memories of being leered at and followed around in my hometown mall – I was an early bloomer and it was pretty unwelcome attention to a preteen. Now we have another dimension in which we can be objectified or harassed, and it’s online.

    The fact that you were able to see more of this person’s “preferences” on Flickr is a new development – how many people have private bookmarks on their home browser that serve the same purpose but may never be discovered?

    As a grown person and a woman who lives alone, I have to think consciously about my safety and much of that has to do with online tools. I have location-aware features on my smartphone turned off, and I do not use tools like BrightKite or other ways to broadcast my precise location when out and about unless in a large group. I don’t take and post pictures of my home that might lead someone there.

    I can’t prevent all the unwelcome situations that might happen, but I can take concrete steps to prevent many of them. And if I had children, I’d sure initiate an ongoing discussion about both online and offline privacy, safety, and harassment. I would want to make sure my kids knew that they should have both private and public lives largely of their own making, and they should actively seek out tools to enable them to do so both digitally and IRL.

  10. What worries me, is that the images that need not be favourited, for them to be used in this manner. It is almost too easy for any user to anonymously download images, and to upload them to other domains… perhaps even private domains?

    Knowing that downloaded photos can also be edited, compounds the concerns we must have when sharing images via social media sites.

  11. I have struggled with this issue. I too live an open life and post pictures of my son online for friends and family. Some I mark private, but many I have not. After reading your post, I went to my flickr page and got to thinking about public/private, protection, open? I don’t know. It’s scary, but I have to agree with Stephen and with you. I’ve had a group favorite a picture of my son and request to add it to their G.I. Joe pictures, I declined. When I checked their page, they did indeed have pictures of G.I. Joe toys, most by themselves or with grown ups, a few with children, but nothing seemed like the pages you captured. It’s upseting, honestly, and I thank you for writing how you handled it. Building awareness for parents is important–it’s important to me and I’m probably a member of the choir.

    As parents, I think we do have responsibilities when it comes to our childrens’ digital footprints. I keep a blog about family matters, but I realized a few weeks ago that I can’t record some favorite stories there–stories that are personal or that would be embarrassing later in life. Why would I want to hang that albatross around my son’s neck? So, I’m trying to manage what I post. But I’ve not managed photographs well and you’re post really has me thinking and reconsidering my public/private features on flickr.

    Thank you,
    Lee Ann

  12. Alec,

    I use Creative Commons images almost daily, and have started to make some of my own Flickr images available with CC licensing.

    After much thought, I decided to keep all rights reserved for clearly identifiable pictures of family members, students, and staff members.

    Many of the photos I take at school are sent to my principal or superintendent, then deleted or kept private.

    My daughter goes even further, keeping her entire Flickr collection available only to family.

    I can understand your horror at finding your daughter’s pictures in the collection of a voyeur. I hope that people who violate the family values of others in this manner receive swift and harsh punishment.

  13. While I agree–and appreciate his eloquence (I’m going to steal that comment and repost on my blog, hope you don’t mind Stephen!)–with Stephen Downes post, I sense I may have some inconsistencies and contradictions in my thinking and dealing with this. Simply, my espoused theory may not be the one in practice (smile), or is it vice-versa?

    I’ve done some quick reflection here:

    and will have to reflect some more. It’s ironic that this coincides with an NYTimes report about moral panic…which I cite in the blog entry.


    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the

  14. Thanks for this…
    We all have kids and we all worry about freaks; but this post takes the freak out of the closet and exposes them. That’s what needs to be done. Thanks.

  15. Alec,

    My wife is pregnant with our first child, and there has never been a time when this has been a more prevalent thought on my mind. I’ve been giving a great deal of consideration as to how I will handle the sharing of my child’s photos. On the one hand, I really want to take joy in sharing the images of who I know I will be so overwhelmingly proud of. However, I know the price that complete, uninhibited sharing can exact. Frankly, I’m absolutely unsure of what to do.

    My doubt also spills over into the educational sector where I work. I’ve been put in charge of the educational implementation of technology in my district. With that comes the consideration of the safety of our students. That is a great weight to bear. I firmly believe it to be imperative that we seek answers to the questions you have posed. There is simply too much at stake not to pursue this with absolute vigor.

    And I absolutely disagree with Stephen. In an idealistic world, openness would solve every crime and catch every ne’er-do-well. We don’t live in an ideal world. Yes, sometimes openness provides the solution, but it can just as easily be the cause of the problem. Openness will catch some of these people, but it is certainly not what protects these kids. There are far too many cases that prove this to be true for us to blithely and naively pretend that operating in utter openness will provide all the answers. You may not be able to hide, but you can certainly logically protect.

    I wish I had more answers. I do believe you’ve given me even greater cause to pursue such an endeavor.

  16. I am very sorry that this had to happen to you and your daughter. I have sons myself, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from being subjected to the same kinds of people. Since they are minors, I do keep their pictures restricted so they are only viewable by “Friends and Family”. At least that way I know who has the ability to look at the photos of my children. It’s certainly not as easy to upload a group of photos, but I like the control it offers.

    Stephen made the following comment: “Creating a climate of fear in which everyone hides their kids simply creates a safe haven for those people, and a prison for their children.”

    I don’t feel as though I’m imprisoning my children by protecting their identity. When they come of age, I’ll change those settings. I teach my kids about being safe online, which is what we all should do, but “hiding” my kids, in my opinion, isn’t a bad thing to do.

  17. How do you set up Flickr to notify you if a photo of yours has been favorited? I don’t see that option anywhere (and I do have a Flickr Pro account).

    In all honesty, I don’t think that the online world poses any more credible risks than the face-to-face one. Creepy people with less-than-mainstream tastes and thoughts can see kids in public places every day and no one knows what they are thinking. And thoughts don’t equate to actions, let alone illegal actions.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am a mother of two young girls myself and would obviously prefer they not be the target of anyone’s obsession. But it could just as easily be happening in the face-to-face world without my knowledge.

    I take very few precautions with my family’s digital identity. If someone is disturbed enough to want to track down me or my family, they will do it and nothing I do – or don’t – post online will stop or slow them.

    I know some people will not mention their kids’ names or ages on the internet. I don’t worry about it. We don’t have an unlisted phone number (though we have no land lines) and our address is also public.

    I have and do talk to my kids about all kinds of uncomfortable situations – not just involving strangers because statistically, some family member or other person they KNOW is most likely to cause them harm.

    Technologically, we do “preventative maintenance” on the incoming technology side. We screen their blog comments (both the 7 year old and 9 year old have public blogs). Commenters must be approved the first time they make a comment, but after that, their comments post immediately.

    Another precaution we’ve taken is restricting their Skype chats or calls to people on their contact list. They Skype with their grandparents, so yes, they have their own Skype account!

    Finally, we have restrictions on their incoming emails to prevent the insidious “enhance your body part” (that girls don’t have) advertisements.

    And of course, our main family computer is in the kitchen, easily monitored, with safe-mode enabled on Google since they Google almost daily.

    I am probably in a liberal minority in my views of online identity protection, but I am also probably in a conservative minority in my views of physical world protection.

    For example, my kids are not allowed to wear provocative clothing – and that includes clothes with words on the rear end. John and I agree that those clothes are fine for young adults, but disgusting for children. The 9 year old asked for and received her first two piece bathing suit at the end of the summer, but it was basically a one piece cut in the middle, showing about 2 inches of stomach above her belly button – and she was still thrilled!

    We don’t tease our kids about “boyfriends” or talk about romance, dating, or kissing except as something they will do when they are older (but we HAVE had to speak out firmly to relatives who tease or discuss those things with them).

    We also don’t encourage our kids to watch shows or movies dealing with kissing, dating, and other activities meant for teenagers (Hannah Montana? High School Musical? Those shows are about HIGH SCHOOL kids and situations and are just not appropriate for young children).

    How do we proceed from here? How do we help parents understand the issues? I think we continue to talk about the REAL threat of online interaction: not predators, but lack of education about basic internet safety and interaction for older kids and lack of frank discussion of real threats between kids and parents. (Parents seem to have taken the “head in the sand” approach to all perceived threats throughout history – and history shows that it never works!) I think most parents over-estimate the online threats and underestimate the threats that their own casual, apparently harmless, attitudes about the physical world can introduce.

  18. Pingback: How open are you willing to be, considering the risks? « What’s in my head, and sometimes bounces out.

  19. Sorry to hear you had to go through this, Alec. I’m not sure I have much of an opinion to offer but I can tell you that the amount of photos (put up by me) one can find anywhere on the net of my own son are extremely minimal. However, I’ve never held back for fear of strangers looking at the pictures with dubious intent. My reasoning has always been –

    What gives me the right to throw up pictures or videos of my child when he has not the capacity/ability to decide if that’s a decision he wants to make? Why should I assume that it’s OK with him? And then the other part of my brain says I’m being too uptight and do put up the rare pic.

    I really couldn’t care less if someone gets (twisted) pleasure from looking at pictures of children. I don’t comprehend it, but I don’t fear it. Hiding pictures isn’t going to stop such thought patterns. I agree with Stephen that openness can actually draw people out – which is good for children and the illness in the mind of the adult. What *is* a valid fear is of adults getting *physical* pleasure from children. I would imagine that an incident like this would spark that fear to some degree though it’s important to keep the two fears separate when determining what to do.

    Anyway, sorry again to hear that you’re having to deal with this. Good luck to you.

  20. As a father of two young ones, I occasionally think about what to do in situations like this as well. My parents live overseas, so if I don’t put photos online, they will be left out of our kids growing up.

    While I don’t use Flickr or another 3rd party service to host my photos (making it less likely for people to find them, I suppose), I don’t really have any protection on them either.

    On the whole, I’m with Stephen — while it may be disturbing to find that your child is part of some pervert’s collection, the real harm is statistically far more probable to come from someone your child knows and trusts already. I don’t feel that spending my time pursuing online voyeurs will do anything to make my kids any safer, only lessen the ick factor.

  21. Alec,

    I can’t even begin to imagine the knot you must have had in your stomach over this. I’m sorry to hear that you went through it.

    I’m not sure what my thoughts are on this, but my biggest fear is that we shut down everything we do for fear of what someone may say, do, or think. What would happen if we used this – or any example – as the reason for everyone on the Web to shut down and close doors and make everything private. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in.

    Of course, I don’t WANT to live in the kind of world where these kinds of things happen, either.

    I don’t know the answer. The only thing I THINK I know is that ONE answer isn’t going to fit everyone.

  22. A few years back I got a semi-threatening e-mail regarding a project I do with my students. This person had a belief system that contradicted with the spirit of the project (sorry for the vagueness, but I don’t want search engines to find it). At that point I had pictures of my wife and son with names. While I was able to figure out through some searches that the person was across the country and not a real threat, I immediately took down the pictures and names. I do post the occasional picture still, but I don’t publish many for everyone to see.

    There is a fine line here. I live a relatively “open” life professionally, but the boundary between that and my personal life is blurry. We seem to be able to dismiss the Dateline specials as the exception, but when it happens like this, it becomes a lot more real. Now I have to re-think my 365 in 2009 approach…

  23. First of all, I add my thanks and appreciation to Alec for his willingness to confront this problem head on.

    I have spoken out quite passionately about Dateline ‘s “to catch a predator” series as the reason parents are so afraid to let their students use the internet at school (or even at home). I’ve been critical of our state internet safety program that focuses a lot of attention on teaching parents how to access the sex offender database. I’ve cited research that shows cyberbullying is a bigger threat than online predators. And now something like this causes me to slap my forehead wondering if I have made a huge mistake in judgment. Have I been wrong, or naive, for seeing the glass as half-full?

    I know these sick, disturbed people are “out there” in both the real world and in cyberspace, but, quite frankly, I always thought they had other sources of photos to peruse other than school websites or, in this case, flickr. The kinds of photos that, if found in their possession or on their computers, would get them arrested and put away. Technically, and legally, this “person” has done nothing wrong, but doesn’t this type of behavior wave a red flag that this person needs to be investigated by law enforcement (assuming he can be found)? Our state police have successfully used chat rooms and decoys (like Dateline) to find and arrest these low lifes. Could they also do something similar on a photo sharing site like Flickr?

  24. Thanks for sharing what was obviously a disturbing experience for you, Alec. I’m disturbed by it, too.

    I tend to not post photos of children (family or otherwise) to my Flickr account. I’m not a parent, but I suspect that if I were, I would keep photos of my children protected and not open to all. The issue gets trickier as your kids get older, I guess — of course so many teens *want* their photos out there. Certainly, this is an invitation for these kinds of conversations with kids and their parents, as you are suggesting.

    As for photos of adults, I try to always ask first. I realize it’s a personal preference and I try to respect everyone’s wishes. Likewise, there have been a handful of occasions when I have discovered my photo posted somewhere online and I wish it wasn’t. Fortunately, in all cases, the poster has removed them without question or hesitation.

    People like the Flickr users you’ve reported will always exist; not sure there is much we can do to stop that. However, what we can do is what you’re doing – act responsibly, consciously, and communicatively. And how great is it that you’re able to alert the community, via tools like this blog, Twitter, and more? That is certainly an advantage we didn’t have 10 years ago…

    Thanks again for making us all think and respond.

  25. I’m disturbed by this news Alec as your confidence in the safety of the wired world has encouraged me to explore a world that I shied away from because of the privacy issues. I have to admit that I am enjoying putting myself ‘out there’ more, but a part of me is now wondering if I’ve made a mistake. I know one thing I have not yet posted a lot of pictures online and this makes me think that I probably won’t be posting pictures of my own family at least in a way that they can be viewed publicly.

    It just makes me think that it would be nice if a person had the ability to ‘mark’ a picture in such a way that would require another to request permission from the person that posted the picture before they could actually “borrow” the image for their own use! Maybe this technology already exists and I am just not aware.

  26. Great discussion. Stephen and Amy said it best. I’m curious about Ben’s comments. To me it reflects much of the fear that people have subjected to in our world.

    I remember after the London bombings the website, We Are Not Afraid. That’s how I want to live which is not to say we don’t do due diligence to protect our kids but not at the expense of the great benefits. Specifically, I’ve made private a few photos of my kids in bathing suits that might be used nefariously but at some point, as you’ve experienced, there’s a weirdo out there for everything.

    Again, you handled it the way I would have and obviously it shook you up a bit as it would anyone. In the end however, I’m just not willing to close shop because the world is filled with bad people. I know you won’t either.

  27. I have so much to say to this, I don’t even know where to begin. I will start with the notion of privacy. Privacy means different things to different people. Sometimes it is driven by culture or even law. When we’re in online spaces, we cross multiple cultures and boundaries. Everything we choose to put online, could be seen as something other cultures feel should remain private. We build our online social relationships with some degree of sacrifice in order to obtain some benefit. There’s an internal negotiation process we go through before we decide to publish anything. I think it’s important we make these decisions with as much information as possible. I also don’t think it’s possible to make concrete decisions that will apply to all situations.
    When you think about the technology involved, this goes a lot deeper than has been discussed so far. Sites with an open API allow developers to create applications that access data on those services. These applications can be designed to do things we haven’t even considered. For example, those images organized as favorites can be easily pulled into a site like Blurb where a book can be quickly generated and published. I imagine this could be done in just a few minutes, before we even notice. Someone could create an account, favorite everything with a certain tag scheme, suck out the images, and print a book or make some other mashup while you are asleep. By the time you wake up, that account will be deleted. With folksonomy, it takes very little data mining effort to gather this stuff up. How hard is it to use the Twitter advanced search to pull a query containing words like ‘daughter,’ with a photo and then grab the feed? If your photo is public, it can be grabbed easily as soon as you post it, and mashed up in countless ways.
    I think it’s probably unwise to make assumptions about the people behind this activity. It’s highly likely it isn’t just some guy with a problem. I find it more plausible that there are people out there making money off the guy with the problem. I imagine there are companies with employees doing the manual work and bots doing the rest, to mashup these images in a way that will generate some form of profit.
    I also don’t think it’s very useful to assume a profile of an individual who would be responsible for this. Paraphilia is a term used in abnormal psychology to describe a number of ‘disorders’ of a sexual nature. Someone who looks at photos of kids may be a voyeur, not a pedophile. There’s a big difference. We can’t make blanket assumptions or determine intent based on the information we have here. Here’s an abbreviated list of paraphilias It is understandable that any of us would be most concerned about images of our children, but if you think about it, there are probably people out there aroused by every benign image and post we make. People are just as likely to be gaining pleasure from images of your pets. We can’t withhold every contribution for fear of someone being aroused.
    This brings up another point that parents don’t often consider. I often hear people say they won’t put up naked baby photos, pictures of their kids in swim suits, or acting grown up. Because we are so used to the media talking about child pornography, we assume it is the more sexual images that are most likely to cause harm. This isn’t the case. If you think about it, you probably don’t need to see your partner nude to be aroused, right? There is an entire online voyeur culture around trading images. They are usually sought after by type, and some are worth more than others. If your kid photos are public, someone is probably trading them somewhere. Newer search technology and folksonomy makes it easier to find images, but it didn’t create this problem. For centuries, images have been traded. It just used to be facilitated by skilled miniature artists.
    Finally (I think) we all know the profile of people who are most likely to harm our children. Family, friends, teachers, clergy are all more likely than a stranger online. Your network of trusted contacts consists mostly of people who are teachers, most with families. Realistically, keeping photos available to these people would be riskier than allowing strangers to view them. Do we really want to start screening our contacts with psychological profiles before we allow them to access our photos and stories?
    One last thing and then I will be quiet! I do think it is important for us to think about the rights of our children to choose what is shared. Unfortunately, children really don’t have the maturity to make those choices. The best we can do, is try to think as far in the future for them as we can, and consider the potential impact of our actions. I can think of several events from my childhood where I’ve asked my parents why they ever let me do that. So try to think about the future and your kids asking why you did that with their photo.

  28. Thanks for this Alec. As you know, I have many pics of my kids uploaded to Flickr, on my blog, etc. I’ve not experienced this personally, but I’ve seen this before. To this thread, I find myself reacting in a couple of ways.

    First, it is true that I’ve not given my kids a choice in what has been shared about their lives. I have done so with eyes wide open, but this does cause me to examine those motivations more closely. In the end, I think, it is an attempt to share my life with a community that I have come to feel is an important part of my life. It’s a part of wanting not just to be seen for the ideas I write about but also for who I am, what my life is like. That sounds weird on some level, I know, but it’s a product of the times in some ways. I know that others outside my connected community will be able to see these pictures and could use them in ways that I might not approve of. But I believe that potential is slight. What the long term ramifications are of this on my kids remains to be seen. But I will be sure that I prepare them as well as I can for whatever that eventuality is. In short, I will not stop sharing.

    But second, and even more acute, is this desire I have to ask where has this outrage been all along? My daughter is subjected to images far more troubling than what you bring up here every day, many times a day. Women and girls are objectified in this country in ways that have become shameless, yet we rarely acknowledge it. Take a real hard look the next time you walk into a Barnes and Noble and scan the magazine rack. Women, children, girls and boys posed in ways that suggest nothing but sex and define beauty or health in distorted ways. (Men too.) Or on television or movies. We all see this, every day. Yet what do we do? Sure, most of us don’t catalog them and remix them and republish them for whatever disturbed purposes. But we don’t protest. We don’t demand they be removed. At most, we counsel our kids when they see them. My daughter knew at a very early age what was real and what wasn’t as she started really looking at these images.

    I’m in no way condoning the behavior of those people who favorited your pictures Alec, and it would creep me out as well. But I too am an idealist here, and I believe that measured openness in personal affairs has an upside greater than the risk. I’ll continue to think about what that means for my kids, and I appreciate your openness in sharing this experience.

  29. The father instinct is a powerful one, I think – especially when it comes to their little girls. We want to protect them from every possible harm. We don’t like it when guys “oogle” our daughters – even if they are all grown up. Online behaviors are no different in this regard, I think. We assume that folks are decent, yet know that there are plenty of people out there with many forms of perversion. We just want them to stay out of our personal space. Sadly, Flickr and other forms of social media are not all that personal in the respect of privacy. Whether we believe it or not, we give up a great deal of privacy as our digital footprint grows and we lose control over the artifacts of our lives that we make public.

    For sure, it is a delicate balance between privacy and a digitally open life. As a father, I err on the side of privacy for my kids and think of ways to ease them into the digital lifestyle. I even ask my facebook community to remove tags that have my children’s names in them – even if they are all my “friends”. I still want to be in control of their digital footprint a while longer. (see Will Richardson’s struggle with giving his daughter a cell phone in his latest blog post) However, any of us could have and perhaps have easily fallen prey to this kind of behavior you have just experienced.

    I say, follow your fatherly instincts and protect your kids. Everyone will have to determine for themselves what degree of protection vs. freedom//open vs. closed online presence is best. I don’t think any absolutes exist here.

    Yet, I wonder if reports like this one “Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown” in the NY Times overlook these types of more subtle invasion.

  30. NYT has some comfort on social networking now being the big bad – Steve mentions it above –

    But of course the aggregate and the specific are very different. I have no words of wisdom for you, but want to join others in thanking you for sharing the experience, and starting the valuable discussion here. The key, it seems, is to be aware of best practices for online safety, to teach and model them to the best of our ability, but to recognize (with Will) that risk is everywhere, and there are plenty of other, more damaging dragons to slay in our media environment.

  31. As a new Dad, I found this story very compelling. As many others have commented, we can’t let people like this scare us away from building a vibrant online world. But it’s an important issue that people need to understand and be educated on before they contribute.

    This isn’t necessarily about fear. It’s about a feeling of violation, and how we choose to deal with that feeling.

  32. I am sorry to hear that you and your family had to go through this Alec. My thanks too for using this incident to focus this important discussion.

    Like Steve and many others above, my wife and I almost always err on the side of caution when it comes to posting photos of our children online. Those that are posted on Flickr are always private, limited only to family and a select few.

    I am tempted to agree with the idealists that openness helps to expose or reach those that would use these photos in disturbing ways, but it seems to me that there are lots of ways for those people to remain anonymous. I sympathize with those who want to stand firm and not give into fear by limiting access to images, but don’t feel I have the right to use photos of my children as a political statement. I am NOT happy with the thought of using photos of my children (however small the risk might be) to flush out a few of the voyeurs and pedophiles.

    There are many excellent posts in this discussion, too many for me to comment on. Just a couple notes – Will R correctly put this situation in a larger context. Jen made some important points about the ease with which online images can be scooped and re-purposed.

    Thanks to all for your thoughts.


  33. That’s not just creepy, it is publicly creepy, and one has to wonder why anyone would be so public about their “affections” when they are so obviously inappropriate. I guess we see that living an open life can also include trotting out your own perversions for the world to see. I only wish there were more effective ways to confront people.

    But I want to underscore something that Will and Jen offered. I think that one of our roles as parents is to make decisions for our kids until they can make their own. Of course that puts a lot of responsibility on us, and requires that we continually examine our own motives for the decisions we make for them. When the time comes for them to make their own choices, I know that your kids will understand that their father lives a principled life — one that is thoughtful and careful, not just open — and that will give them some of the best armour they can wear.

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  35. Alec,

    As a Clinical Psychologist, I have had the opportunity to be more aware of the darker side of the human spirit. My husband complains that it sometimes leads me to ‘think like a cop’ and anticipate the worst from strangers. While I like to be optimistic about the potential for good in everyone, I am aware of the prevalence of human pain that gets expressed in a wide range of behaviors that are harmful to the larger community. I have colleagues who have worked in prison settings with sex offenders and they are incredibly protective of their kids. It’s easier to walk through life not fully knowing how those with antisocial tendencies think and behave.

    While sex offenders have more commonly needed to be in positions of trust with parents to get access to kids, the internet has bypassed that inconvenience. Paraphilias aren’t harmless as Jen purports. While they may begin as a “victimless” voyeurism, feeding the habit can escalate to acting on those urges. Psychologists don’t know how to predict who will and who won’t act out.

    I admire those who choose to be open in their lives. My knowledge and experience of dealing with dangerous individuals prevents me from ever fully embracing the idea. I am truly sorry that you have been confronted with this dark reality. I deeply appreciate that you have been willing to share this experience as it is critical to build awareness. Everyone has to make choices in determining how openly they want to live on the internet. It’s so important to be more aware of the potential risks when it comes to our kids in weighing how we set those boundaries.

  36. K., I apologize if anything in my post made it seem I believed these problems are harmless. I don’t believe I even mentioned ‘victimless.’ I actually meant to imply quite the opposite. I was trying to draw attention to something most people don’t even consider, because their only exposure is through mainstream media and the entertainment industry. When I mention there’s a big difference between voyeur and pedophile, I’m not stating we shouldn’t be concerned. I’m suggesting people do further research so they can become aware of these conditions, and not make assumptions based on what they’ve heard in the media.

  37. I think this is an important reminder that we need to be more cautious when we’re sharing personal information. You wouldn’t invite the world to your daughter’s fourth birthday party and you probably don’t want them viewing her photos either. While it’s a sad commentary, we probably need to password protect or member only photos and other identifying information. There are many predators in the world which is why you wouldn’t drop your daughter off at the park alone. The Internet is a fabulous communication tool and we want to take full advantage of it. We just need to always remember that there is a wide world on the other side of the screen.

  38. I’ve been thinking about privacy and digital identity as well – in 2007 I decided to stop posting photos of my son online (I’ve since reversed that decision, with some self-imposed constraints).

    Some thoughts that occurred to me while reading this (and your tweets in real time) – this is some seriously creepy, disgusting, scary behaviour. The anonymity of Flickr made it possible for him/her to gather these sets of photos without risk – without a subpoena by appropriate law enforcement agencies to access the webserver logs to track the IP address and identity of the individual, there is no way to know who this person is. Anonymity protects them. If everything was open, including this person, I’d wager a bet that this activity would be much less common. Shining lights on cockroaches, as it were.

    As you mention, the photos of her were the only ones that were clothed. Why are people posting photos of children in questionable contexts?

    One thing that is worth noting, though, is that there was no direct danger to your daughter. Yes, the act was creepy, scary, sick, disgusting. But she was never in any danger. She wasn’t being lured or tricked into meeting someone.

    Why aren’t we campaigning Flickr or Yahoo! to not allow anonymous or falsified accounts? That’s the real problem, not that the photos are public in the first place.

  39. I actually don’t put photos of my kids on flickr I do share them with family via a passworded system on another service.

    It is clear how distasteful these photos are, even a smaller screenshot is unpleasant. I agree with previous posts why are photos like this even on flickr !

    I am not going to do the research but I wonder do the owners of these photos have photos of lots of children rather than just their own families!

    I stick to my rule of no family on flickr, and your experience tells me I am right, although I wish it wasn’t the case.

    The one plus, I guess is the first account came down quickly…

  40. Thanks for posting this, I think it’s a really important part of the discussion of using the internet and openness.

    I’m a big believer that these types of problems will only be solved through awareness and discussion.

    I want to thank you particularly for the practical tips – this is an article I will refer to in my discussions of Flickr with other teachers.

  41. Just as I am fine with people’s decision not to post any photos, I’m equally bothered but those suggesting that posting them is foolish or careless.

    Patricia writes,

    I think this is an important reminder that we need to be more cautious when we’re sharing personal information. You wouldn’t invite the world to your daughter’s fourth birthday party and you probably don’t want them viewing her photos either. While it’s a sad commentary, we probably need to password protect or member only photos and other identifying information. There are many predators in the world which is why you wouldn’t drop your daughter off at the park alone.

    Posting a photo of my daughter’s party is hardly inviting them to it and posting a photo is not akin to dropping them off a at park. I’m with them and by making decision about what’s online and what’s not, I learn. I understand there are bad people in the park but I’m still going. I’ll watch them, sometimes withing arms length, and sometimes from further away. I’m just not comfortable with people making judgments about my decision.

    As has been said many times in this thread, we should be paying closer attention to people we know, not strangers. If you don’t want to post photos online or keep everything password protected, that’s fine. Totally your decision and I respect that. But don’t say my decisions make me somehow an irresponsible parent.

  42. Dean, Alec, et al.: I would never say that you are irresponsible parents. I’m not a parent and cannot judge. The way you view the world is how I would like to view the world. Unfortunately, not everyone in this world has your same perspective. People we know can harm those we love. Strangers can harm those we love. It is up to us, individually and for our own families and friends, to draw the unsteady line between our ideal world and the real world. But it IS a line that we each must draw. To think otherwise is to be living, cocooned, in our own world: whether wrapped in our ideals or trapped in our fears.

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  44. Hi Alec. I am sorry for your bad experience but I am afraid I have to make it both worse and better. The bad news is that what you had to face is surely just the tip of the iceberg. As others above have said perhaps less strongly, for each advertiser of favourites there must be dozens of more furtive downloaders. Any image that is provided to others either digitally or as a print has the potential for being widely distributed without your knowledge, and that is a risk that we all face unless we keep the circulation restricted to only those of our closest intimates who we can be absolutely sure would never abuse us. The good (or at least somewhat less bad) news is that this has been happening for ages without your knowledge and without any bad effects on you or your family. I do not judge those who read this good news as reason to freely circulate images – and indeed worrying about who might be checking out our Flickr pics may be less reasonable than worrying about who is lurking in the bushes near the school and taking his own with a telephoto. But anyone who wants to minimize the chances of their kids’ images being leered at by a pervert would be well advised to never make such images viewable on a public website.

  45. First off, they’re not sickos. “They” are people with psychological problems who need _help_, not isolation, abandonment, or attack.

    Second, did you try to contact the person who favorited the photos? Flickr has an internal messaging system that you could use for this. For all we know, this person could have been collecting photos for an art project… And if the person really was a pedophile, then for all we know he’ll be trawling a different part of the internet tomorrow. I think your reaction was understandable, but it just treated the symptoms not the problem.

  46. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone mention this yet, but what about all the images other people have of our kids? I went to my daughter’s school holiday play and there must have been at least 100 cameras pointed at the kids. Every where I go, people have their phones out taking photos and video. We are quickly approaching a saturation point, where the images will just be noise to anyone who doesn’t find personal meaning in them. For all we know, if we don’t put up photos, our kids will look back at the archives and wonder why no one was proud enough of them to put photos online. I just hope we will all continue to look beyond the scope of the immediate situation and discover more opportunities and challenges.

  47. This is something I’ve been thinking about for years. It touches on so many issues: online safety, cyberbullying, digital ethics, digital identity, digital footprint, culture, participatory culture, …

    In our case, we’ve decided not to make pictures of our kids public. There may be a few out there nonetheless but they are very few. This is changing. As more of our family shares their (and our) lives online in places like Facebook (and so many others) pictures from family events and outings are “out there” that we occasionally learn about through happenstance.

    Like you and many others I value the openness of the online part of my life. Where it comes to my kids and personal life, I’m very reluctant to share that. It doesn’t feel right for me. And while the point has been made that openness helps to reveal the cockroaches (can’t help “hearing” Al Pacino every time I read that word) that’s not even a minor consideration with regard to keeping my kids images and family life private.

    The point was also made by many that as parents we have a responsibility to protect, nurture, and educate our children. We don’t need to publish their images online to do that. At least that the decision my wife and I have made.

    Recently, we started talking about sharing more pics of our kids online. It makes it easier to remix the images to share with family and friends using other online tools. Your post has me rethinking it all over again. I think I feel better keeping their pictures private. When they’re old enough, we’ll talk with them about appropriate ways to share their pictures of themselves and craft their online presence.

    Thanks for posting this. You’ve obviously struck a nerve.

  48. As a teacher of elementary kids, I appreciate your candor about your disquieting discovery. What a shock.

    Normally overcautious, I worry about uses of any posted photo since I observe the way kids deconstruct (or marr) photos and toys and food and just about anything as they learn and play. When teens or adults engage in inappropriate use, it can be creepy. Posted photos could be used in mash-ups of any sort, so if a photo is dear to me or to a member of our community, I am reluctant to post it publicly.

    I am participating in the Image4Education online workshop, and I hope you don’t mind if I link this post to the Ning there for consideration by participants.

  49. As a father of a quickly growing daughter, I found your post thought provoking and timely. I have been running a blog for my daughter since she was born. Her grandparents write angry emails and make worse phone calls if there are not a few shots of her every few days.

    Not only do I see her blog as a way to share her life and growth with our family, but I also I see it as a growing digital photo album complete with comments. My hope was that it would last for years and as a older child she would appreciate seeing her life progress.

    Some family members have told me they felt uncomfortable with her pictures being online, especially pictures of her in a bath etc…But seeing that she is barely three, I thought they were overreacting.

    After reading about your experience, I am having second thoughts. The question I keep asking myself is why don’t I just make her blog private and send the password to the few people who view it regularly?

    The original reason I didn’t do this was because I wanted it to be as easy as possible for family members to access the page. No passwords, no sign ins etc…but after reading your post and the subsequent comments, I am not sure.

    I see no real advantage to having her blog public. I don’t say this because I feel that she is in any danger, or because I feel that someone is using her pictures for weird things, I think her tiny niche on the internet goes largely unnoticed, but I see no reason why being public makes the blog anymore valuable. It serves the exact same purpose private.

    I guess my question is why do people who make their family photos public think the publicity adds? This episode has turned my world upside down. Lots of choices to make.

    Final note, I think many of these photos were found because of the tags that were used, especially the swimsuits. Why would anyone tag a photo of their child with a swimsuit tag, that seems like it would make it easier for people to find? You would not tag the photo with nude, or bath etc…

    I am rambling now. I will discuss this with my wife and see what we will do. Thanks for sharing!

  50. Dear Alec,

    Just like you I’m for openess and you know my photos in Flickr are open. Once it happened the same to me (not so scary, though!) when one of my little one’s photo was favorited in Flickr. It kind of freak me out, I blocked the user. Then, I thought I was overreacting. My photos are still open, but we need to openly discuss this as we’re doing here and make informed decisions. I don’t know what is really part of our daily lives and what’s something we should really worry about. Just some of my family stuff I keep protected. I’ll have to think it over…

    I also believe that we must take care with tagging as it might attract unwanted publicity to some of our photos.

    This is a very appropriate topic as I’m moderating an online session for educators, images4education ( ) and the first thing we’re working with is Flickr. In fact, a participant alerted us about your post here.

  51. Hi Alec,

    Your post struck a chord (I’ve got 3 kids, ages 6, 4 and 3 months), and reminded me of a news report in Mexico last year on the dangers of social networking sites. The focus is different (the issue in Mexico was identity protection and the risk of kidnapping and extortion), but the underlying issue is the same.

    As knowledge workers immersed in Web 2.0 issues, I believe we are at an advantage regarding the vigilance and prevention required to protect our children. I tend to worry a lot more about kids whose parents are doctors, lawyers, accountants or waitresses…

    I hope you don’t mind, but I thought your closing questions were a great starting point for a discussion and I’ve taken the liberty of translating them into Spanish for my blog.

  52. For this reason, I don’t post pics of my children in public areas. If I have, I can count those times on one hand. I just think we have to be careful.

    If we know that our kids are being used in this way, we have to do the right think like Alec did and take action.

    It is tough to judge “intent” but remember when we share pics in creative commons ways that we have to realize this.

    I WISH there was a creative commons license that covered this — “Nonsexual” as a specification. Could it be enforced, I don’t know.

    But parents certainly have a right in this way.

    That being said, we have to know that we lose control when we post things in the public.

    I applaud your transparency in sharing this and will pass this along to the digiteen dream team in my class!

  53. As a father with a son who’ll be 2 years old next week my first thought, of course, was horror and disgust.

    But then, and perhaps this is me playing devil’s advocate: surely these people knew that their favourites can be viewed by others? If that’s the case, perhaps there was another story?

    For example, I searched and collected pictures relating to terrorism today. I was looking for Islamic extremists and typed these things into my school computer. Why? I’m putting together an Animoto-powered video about the War on Terror as part of our new GCSE History course. It was only afterwards that I wondered if my online actions could be misconstrued.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think in this instance you’ve hit the nail on the head and what you did in terms of takedown was absolutely the correct thing to do. I’m just trying to raise the point that it’s not always easy to ascribe intent based on content matter.

    I hope you understand this and don’t take it the wrong way. I sincerely hope that you and your family haven’t been too traumatised by this.

  54. again, it’s worth noting that no child was ever in any real danger. this perv needs help, but was collecting photos – and had no physical access to any of the children.

    as for the copyright license – do you honestly think anyone pervy enough to collect photographs of children would care about the clauses of a license? really?

    what about the educators that compel their students to work in the open? isn’t that a riskier thing than having photos of a child online? the children in this case are barely aware that the photos are even there. the students working in the open (dream team or not) are active participants in online culture, which would be a much “riskier” endeavor.

  55. I don’t know about that D’Arcy, on two points.

    “No child was ever in any real danger”
    … maybe, but I think Alec’s daughter was in a position to be hurt. Probably not today, as she was unlikely to be aware of Alec sharing her photo on flickr and understanding what that means when it gets picked up by a pervert. But how about the future?

    Alec, and others, you included (on your blog), have made the point about parents taking ownership of their children’s digital footprint. What if, say 15 years from now, she stumbles across kid pics of herself in some pervert’s favourites archive? I suspect there might be some hurt there when she tracks it back to her Dad’s flickr account. As a Dad myself I know I would feel a terrible sense of responsibility if something like that happened to one of my kids’ future selves.

    “students working in the open [as] active participants in online culture, [is] a much “riskier” endeavor”
    Well, it can be, but not necessarily. It depends on how well the teacher monitors the kids online work and how diligent they are about it.

    I know every time one of my students publishes anything in any of our shared online spaces.

    I hope, and I have seen evidence of this, that they learn to be more thoughtful when they publish in their other (non-school related) spaces as well.

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  57. To hide an evil is greater than the evil itself.
    By outing the evil, communities take control, not lose it.

    Administrators should respond if the tools provided result in an obvious recontextualising violation such as this, but individually we must also apply our own filters. That is the crux.

    If we disengage or bunker down the community ultimately loses its vibrancy. Thats why flickr is both appealing and dangerous.

    Photo’s are a universal visual literacy without borders. Its the ultimate mass art gallery to the world and we all know the answer to the eternal question, “Is that art?”

    In this age of open ubiquity the more we share the stronger participatory need is to self regulate our online communities.

    However, communities need glue not solvent. That takes courage and conscious effort, maybe some can’t commit to that.

    But the worst response is to ignore, abrogate and finger point. The responsibilty is with contributors to lance a boil before it festers, hit the report/flag button immediately. Send the follow up email. Hound until a response is elicted. Who else has done this? I haven’t but it’s made me think I should.

    Participants choose how much they share, lurk, respond, comment or lead, it’s personal and should not be judged by others.

    But if active participants transcend and the “agreed” community standards are violated who is responsible for redress?

    Flickr (youtube) amplifies this issue due to its visual nature and text based sites may in fact be even worse, just less accessible to the masses. That’s why the pipes on many edufilters are so restrictive, block most to save some. (lawsuits or souls? I’m not yet convinced of what and for whom they really want to save)

    So how do we respond?
    Do we block, run, hunker and hide? The hermit ostrich.
    Do we maintain the (silent or vocal)rage until action is taken? Ghandi or Malcolm X
    Do we out the miscreants, share our actions and hang the consequences? Dirty Harry

    Just because we are now online, the premise of what makes good community has not changed.

    Sure the community is more diverse, more challenging and easier to access but that opportunity only brings a more stimulating set of learning imperitives. Those who embrace and deeply understand will enrich the learning, others have superficial alternatives which I’d rather not consider.

    The apex of the balance is now fluid and that’s the challenge, to find your own stable ground.

    How much you share, what moral standards you tolerate and how you respond when you feel aggrieved are ultimately personal, all legal limits withstanding and I stress that point.

    But isn’t that again “is it art?” in 21st century clothes.

    Naysayers maybe can’t tolerate this new diversity because the fluid state it creates is more confronting and beyond their own previous limits. It forces you to rethink, not accept and that is healthy.

    Are your own filters high functioning, broken, blocked, inept or set too fine? That is the real 21st century issue.

    In this case flickr responded, but what if they hadn’t, what would our community do next?

    As an idealist I’d prefer the quietly assured Atticus Finch, Vincent Lingiari or MLK response, rather than revisit hysteric Salem.

    Made me think, always good, but gee my brain hurts, nicely. (and yes I did edit my family flickr to private, for now.)

  58. I have to echo Darren above. If it is your photo, you should have the right to determine how it is used.

    As for children working out in the “public” – they are in the public every single day – on facebook, on myspace, texting pics from cell phones – every single day.

    When vigilant teachers work online with students, we make sure they:
    1) conceal their identity
    2) follow strict guidelines about the photos they post
    3) are monitored via rss with everything they do

    That is NOT a danger to teenagers who are already online. When you say children – I would not suggest a child that is the age discussed here work in online spaces in the way I do with my high schoolers – teens and children are two entirely different matters.

    We’re going to have to disagree on this one – to say that I (which is what you insinuated) would ever endanger my students is just not an accurate portrayal of what we’re doing. Happy to take some time to talk about what we’re doing because somehow I think you’ve been misinformed.

  59. IANAL but,

    What copyright license is on a photo matters not in terms of privacy. In fact, if there is an explicit copyright notice, that means the photo is published. If you want privacy, keep the photo private. Putting an All Rights Reserved notice on it may help you sue someone for copyright infringement but has nothing to do with protecting your privacy.

  60. Peter, I do have to agree with you. All my family photos are in private Picasa or WalMart online photo albums and not in public spaces.

    This happened when I had two of my photos for the school favorited and I had a similar situation as this – it totally changed how I view the appropriate photos to go online.

  61. This really is a sad consequence of being an anonymous digital generation. The best of the best can result from digital connectivity, but the ugliness of humanity also rears its head. To be honest, this makes me second guess my desire to share photos (as I have daughters as well) via a source where anyone can see them. Twisted minds can pervert even the most innocent of photos.

  62. I’m going to post a link to this article on my blog this weekend and as well on a ning group Its important to get this word out. Sad, yet predictable.

    I lead my life in the internet open a lot and yet try to think about the images I post on flickr and who can see them. I have two girls and fear just this sort of activity.

    I used to GEO locate many of my images and now only add locations that are not places my kids would be found at. Mostly locations for myself. About six months ago I went back and removed all the image locations that were near my home.


  63. I had my three teenage daughters read your post. It was an eye opener for them. I am hoping that they will stop to think before they would EVER post an image to their facebook/myspace that might be used by someone else in a not so innocent manner.

    I also hope that it opened their eyes, that there is always the possibility open to what we deem appropriate, someone else might turn into something inappropriate.

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  66. Thanks to everyone for their comments, thoughts, ideas, and concerns. I never expected the response that this issue/post received, and it’s been wonderful to watch the conversation.

    I am hoping to take a closer look at the big concepts discussed here, especially regarding the implications for living an open life, and I will synthesize the main points in a new blog post sometime in the coming weeks.

    I wanted to state, however, that this post was not meant to scare people or persuade people to be less open. There are many benefits of openness, and this very conversation speaks to this point. If anything, I am hoping this adds to the awareness of the topic, not just about online safety or openness, but also to the wider societal issues related to the objectification/sexualization of children in our society.

    As for my own professional/personal practice, I will continue to follow my ideals. I live my life in the open, and I will continue to do so. I am optimistically cautious, but increasingly aware of the issues that arise with an increase in connectedness for ourselves and our children. I live this way because I strongly believe that openness in our communities is good for our society, and ultimately good for our children.

    Thanks, as always, for participating in this conversation.

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  71. The exact same thing happened to us on Flickr a couple of years ago. My wife and I made the decision then to make all of the pictures of our kids private. It was hard on a certain level as we attempt to share our thoughts and content in the open. But it dawned on us that we never really asked our children if they wanted their pictures online — they were a bit small to understand the question so we just moved them to private.

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  75. I can understand your apprehension, but I don’t understand why Flickr took the user down after you reported the user to them. The user didn’t do anything wrong by favoriting them. Is Flickr now playing thought-police with its users? Flickr has the liberty to remove whomever they want for whatever reason. But if openness is the rule, that user shouldn’t have been taken down.

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  77. Scary and disturbing, Alec. I noticed about a year ago that some of the images of my kids were being found via search engines using the terms “preteen boy” or “preteen girl”. This immediately put up a red flag for me, and I made the photos private. What was most disturbing, though, was the fact that such tags were not my own creations, and I still don’t know how they were labeled as such. How do the search engines find the pictures when they haven’t been tagged with the search terms?

  78. Wings,

    I understand your statement, with the exception of “the user didn’t do anything wrong by favoriting them.” I respectfully disagree in the name of common sense. You may call it “playing thought-police,” but, when it is your children, you’ll likely see things from a different perspective. Openness is no substitute for good judgment.

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  80. I hope there was a creative commons license that covered this — “Nonsexual” as a specification. Could it be enforced, I don’t know.

    But parents certainly have a right in this way.

  81. Similar to how persons with FAS have successfully challenged their parents in court, I am sure there will be cases of children asking for compensation from their parents because they were exposed online against their will.

  82. @Dirk: To equate uploading innocent photos of one’s child online to the results of FAS/FAE is outrageous. And if we go by “against their will” as the catalyst for litigious action, let us also sue every parent that forced their child to dance, sing, write, do homework, or come home by curfew (against the will) of those in their care.

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  85. Hi All,
    Every time I hear a story similar to this, I pause. And then I wonder what the heck you all were thinking.
    Posting photo’s of young children on a web site is the same as posting them in the newspaper for their birthday’s or other achievement’s. The bottom line is that once the photo is out of your hands, you have NO control over it. If you want to share photo’s, email them directly to people you know. In the future, think twice. Be safe.

  86. @Kim Please refer to comment #70, read through the comments, or I’d invite you to look at my latest post – . There are compelling reasons to post images and videos of children online, and these have been thoroughly discussed in this post. Your “In the future, think twice. Be safe.” came off as scolding and condescending, and it disregards this entire conversation. I am not sure if this was your intent. The matter is much more complex than your advice offers.

  87. Alec,
    as a leader in the educational field, people, especially young teachers look for guidance from you.

    In the case of your Flickr account, I am afraid that I have to say that in my mind, you are not setting an example to follow. A quick search of your last name in flickr revealed your account. You regularly post images of your children in an open space and then you seem surprised that the images appear elsewhere in different context.

    In comment #87, you describe your behavior as ‘uploading innocent photo’s of one’s child’. Not so innocent I’d say considering you are the expert here and you are using a tool (flickr) inappropriately, unless of course you have an interest in sharing your family photos with the world, in which case of course I am wondering why you are surprised.

    People need to be properly educated on what tools to use for what purpose. Just because you can post images, stream classes via a cell phone or do whatever does not mean that its a good idea. It certainly is not a good idea when the personal life’s get compromised.

  88. Hi Dirk,
    I hardly know to start with a response, but I’ll give it a shot.
    1) Thanks for calling me an educational leader, sincere or not. As a leader, I have the ability to influence many teachers, colleagues, students, and the general public. It would be very easy for me to “tow the line” and simply repeat and perpetuate the misinformation from our ill-informed mass media (whose business is sensationalism) or I can take an alternative approach. I don’t know if there is a grounded, peer-reviewed research article that I have not read on this subject. Time and time again, it is proven through research, that the possibility of harm to a child through posting a photograph online is minuscule to nil. Society has a long history of posted photographs of children in newspapers over the last century. There is not a positive, significant correlation in these posts with any harm to children. I invite you to find some evidence to refute this.

    2) Seeing as we are doing Google searches, I submitted your IP address (evident to me since I run this blog), and geolocated you to Calgary. While there are a couple of people with your name Dirk, it’s likely that if you commented here, you’d be an educator, and have some background in social media. It took me about two more clicks to find someone with your name (as evident from your fullname in your Gmail address) that teaches in Calgary and has given recent social media workshops. I would bet my lucky penny that this person is you. Now, I could probably find your phone number and address through Canada 411, or I could just phone your school or school division directly. So, with your pointing of fingers of how I am accessible through the web, the difference is that I choose to do so. I consciously manage my digital identity. I know where every photograph is, and I choose carefully what information to share of myself or of my children. In your case, it seems that you are oblivious and unaware of how easy it is to track down anyone, even those that feel they do not give anything of themselves. Who, in this case, is better equipped to teach students and influence colleagues about Internet privacy and managing one’s identity?

    3) You write, “In comment #87, you describe your behavior as ‘uploading innocent photo’s of one’s child’. Not so innocent I’d say considering you are the expert here and you are using a tool (flickr) inappropriately, unless of course you have an interest in sharing your family photos with the world, in which case of course I am wondering why you are surprised.” First off, you changed the meaning of ‘innocent’ from my comment to yours. Second, am I using Flickr “inappropriately”? Really? On whose standard? Yes, I DO want to share my photos of my family with the world. That’s me. I’m proud of my family. I know the risks. I’m informed. Which leads me to …

    4) My kids went to bed late last night. We missed church on Sunday. My kid got stitches when she bumped her head last week. Would you also like to play “moral police” with these as well? Who are you to say what I do as a parent, or how I raise my children? Which leads me to …

    5) As an educational leader, as I believe you also may be, I’d suggest that when you comment on someone’s blog that you stray from personal attacks and engage as an intellect in the conversation. There are close to 90 posts before you where there are good examples of friends, colleagues, and foes who engage in this way. It is this open and civilized discourse that is important in a free society, and will ultimately push our field ahead.

    Now, I’m going to go play with my children.

  89. Interesting and important thread.
    Many thanks for it, and for your tact when dealing with, ummm, redonkulous comments.

  90. Hi Alec,

    My comment about your educational leadership is sincere. I quite enjoyed your keynote at Moodlemoot Canada 2009.

    I will briefly reply to your points:

    1) The harm I am concerned about is not of a physical nature; I am concerned about loss of privacy, especially that of young kids.

    2) I think the difference here is that I am expecting you would discretely manage the information I provided about myself when submitting a comment and therefore I did not feel any need to utilize a fake name, email address or ip spoofing. I would challenge your claim of knowing where all your photographs are.

    3,4,5) I have no desire to lecture you on how to be a parent. I guess I have a bit of a problem with the blending of professional and private content that seems to be characterizing your online presence.

  91. I am currently working on a presentation about, “the blending of professional and private content that seems to be characterizing online presence.”

    The basic premise is this:

    How can we encourage teachers to look beyond their fear and follow their passions and begin to create open honest online identities that reflect their true selves in order to better connect with their students for a more authentic learning environment.

    How can we nurture teachers creativity and inspire passion for what they do so that it is not only a basic expectation but something that is supported by their institutions?

    Or something like that!

    I would love to talk with you Alec or any other readers of this blog and post about what it means to be an educator and live your life open and public online-advantages, fears, etc…

    You can contact me via Twitter @intrepidteacher or just email me at to set up a forum to chat.

    The talk is on June 4th, so the sooner you contact me the better…

  92. Dirk,

    While Alec is more than capable of responding himself, I’ll add a few thoughts.

    Definitions of privacy really need to be revisited. What we currently view as “private” isn’t what it was 20 years ago, maybe not even 5 years ago. Along with that comes the increasing blurring of personal and professional lives. Many find this disconcerting. I certainly can see how this can cause problems however the reality of being immersed in social learning is that it is by very nature social. That means that we share personal things, yes, things about our family. Many choose not to but in an age where social capital has more importance than ever this is one of the by products.

    Finally I’m not sure what the loss of privacy in this case really means. The fact is that Alec’s kids, my kids and millions of others are living in a world where the openness we experience will continue to be the norm. In 12 years when Alec’s girl graduates, it will be nothing to think that many of those students will have terabytes of data strewn all over. No one will think twice. In fact, I believe that those who have limited amounts of data will be at a disadvantage.

    I certainly have no problems with someone choosing to not participate or exercise very conservative views on openness, sharing and privacy. However, to say that Alec is not setting a good example is in my mind large uninformed and in fact entirely the opposite from my perspective. This is a loving, thoughtful parent who understands the nature of the web probably better than almost anyone. He indeed is a leader and is walking the talk.

    The benefits for sharing globally don’t even compare with the risks. Being someone who lives this, I speak from experience. As the father of four children, I want them to experience as well. My kids are fully aware of the content I post about them and on occasion, I’ve removed photos that they are not comfortable with. They would tell you a few stories of “engaging with strangers” that were very positive experiences.

    The original incident was a fact of the internet. Alec’s intent was to point out how things work and explore what it meant. Many of the comments provided clarification and a deeper understanding. Without sharing this story, we’d never be having this exact conversation.

  93. @Dirk Thanks for the follow-up post. My thoughts …

    1) As Dean explains well, the concept of privacy is shifting quickly. See Danah Boyd’d recent dissertation, it’s an excellent discussion of some of these ideas. In short, our views or privacy is nothing like the emerging views of teens.

    2) I know where the photos are that I post, yes. But if any of them are out of my control beyond that … so what? Seriously? What is the worst thing you can possibly imagine? And they weigh that with the many benefits we’ve realized as a family who lives this way. In our experience, there is no comparison. And yes, there is a bit of a social contract here … thus the reason I didn’t reveal your last name, email address, or IP to anyone.

    3) Parents make decisions about their children every single day. Whether it’s what school to go to, what religion, no religion, friends they should associate with, curfews, social conduct, tolerance around social activities, whether they get a car, whether they learn piano, play basketball/hockey/football, whether they can borrow the car, whether they should have a job, whether they should learn a second language, whether they go on that trip, do they get a computer, do they get a computer in their room, do you like their gf/bf, what are the stories you tell them, what experiences do you share with them … the list goes and on and on. In the big picture, where does posting photos of your children on the Internet really compare to any of this? No parenting decision should be taken lightly … this is why I started this discussion in the first place … but I want to promote discussion here, not judgment.

    I appreciate your comments here. I don’t know if I have in any way swayed your opinion, but I hope you will at least appreciate the thought and commitment I have put into this matter.

    @Dean Thanks for the great follow-up post.

    @Jabiz I have some time available this week. We should work out a good time match with our different time zones.

  94. I have followed this discussion with interest. What I have taken away from it is that there is a wide range in what people feel about the posting of pictures and other information on the Web. I think the dialogue is healthy and that what may be right for one family is not right for the other. Certainly we all want to be safe and to take whatever precautions we can to safeguard against inappropriate contact. The part that disturbs me personally is what I view as a lack of civility in some of the responses, especially if an individual felt that his/her parenting skills were being questioned. What is posed as opinion is sometimes viewed as an attack, with a corresponding hostile response This suppresses open dialogue more quickly than any censor. Could we agree to different opinions and engage more in discussion than reaction?

  95. @Pat Thanks for your thoughts.

    re: “The part that disturbs me personally is what I view as a lack of civility in some of the responses, especially if an individual felt that his/her parenting skills were being questioned. What is posed as opinion is sometimes viewed as an attack, with a corresponding hostile response.”

    There are a couple of ways to look at this. If you subscribe to basic communication theory, you may have heard of Lasswell’s Maxim: “who says what to whom in what channel with what effect”. While basic communication describes the process of information being sent from sender to receiver, what is also important is how that information is first crafted, worded, or constructed. In your response, it seems that you place most of the responsibility upon the receiver of a message. Message construction is a result not only of what is received, but in how the message is originally constructed. Addressing the “in what channel” attribute, any message received could have a different effect depending on the channel. For instance, we may tolerate swearing more at a hockey game or football game, vs. a classroom.

    In context, a message that somewhat leans or alludes to poor parenting skills would likely be defended more vigorously in a personal blog space (where one constructs and shares their digital identity) vs. a casual comment at the mall. Aside from this, messages are also influenced by previous conversations, individual and group histories, context of the conversation, and other critical elements contextual to the event and to the participants.

    Yes, “what is posed as opinion can sometimes be viewed as an attack.” Yet, I do not agree with the underlying assumption that the construction of messages are more the responsibility of the receiver. Also, it can be said that some opinions are indeed attacks. Without context, how do we discern? Individuals who are new or unfamiliar to a particular conversational context (e.g., first time commenters) would likely have to construct their messages even more carefully in order for their intended meaning to get across.

    In spirit, your message says to me that you favour “open dialogue”. I do as well. Yet, open dialogue means a careful creation, negotiation, reception, and construction of messages; such responsibilities lie with both senders and receivers. In this spirit, I trust that you will not see this message as an attack on you, but simply a response to your comment written in the spirit of open dialogue.

  96. Hi Alec, I responded earlier (#45 and #80), but this latest flurry of comments raises some further questions.

    In general I do not give or approve of unsolicited advice about parenting except where manifest harm is occurring, and I do not agree with some of the responses you objected to. But I do think that you seem to be taking offense at people giving what (they thought) you were asking for.

    So, more explicitly, here are my own answers to your questions:

    1) What must parents know about the realities of the Internet in regards to how we deal with the photos (and identities) of our children?
    A1) The internet merely amplifies what was true (and should have been known)before it existed. Namely that there is no way of preventing a published picture from being used (and circulated for use) in ways that you might not approve of – and in fact that you might find downright revolting.

    What the internet does is make it much more likely that you will discover these things without actually looking for them. Good if you want to know, bad if you don’t.

    2) What are the benefits of an open vs. a closed reality? Are the benefits of openness (e.g., in regards to our families) worth the risks? And, what are the credible risks?
    A2)The expectation of physical risk is known to be small (but that just means that the probability of something horrible happening as a direct consequence of publication is very low – not that it is impossible). The probable risk of future discomfort or embarrassment is on the other hand quite high.
    Of course both kinds of risk are present no matter what we do and the marginal risk of openness is probably only very small.
    The benefits to an individual of openness (esp wrt student work) include promotion and recognition of talent – although this may be just as effectively achieved by communication to a more restricted audience, so the real benefit may be more to society as a whole than to the individuals being exposed.

    However the relative weighting of risks vs benefits of openness is something that each individual will have to decide for him or her self (or have decided by parents).

    3) What precautions should we take, or perhaps, what precautions do you take in the presentation/development of your family’s digital identity?
    A3) This is where you invite criticism (with the “should”). I have taken no precautions myself, but my own children were grown by the time that I (or they) could be faced with easy accidental exposure to anything nasty that might have been done with their images.

    4) What rights and responsibilities do we have as parents to protect the digital identities of our children?
    A4) Again, you are asking for it!
    Dirk’s #86 may have been a bit over the top, but a comparison (with FAS) is not an identification, and in an increasingly litigious world I’m not sure I would discount the possibility of being sued both for forcing a child to dance on one day and for not doing so on the next. (Remember the lightsabre dance? What if a parent had found that and thought it cute enough to post? But again it’s not just the internet. Various traditional TV shows seem to provide for some pretty gross violations of children’s privacy these days.)

    5) How do we proceed from here? How do we help other parents to understand these important issues?
    A5) I can’t answer the first, but I think you have done a great service on the second of these.

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  98. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for your careful and comprehensive response to my initial queries.

    I will not comment on all of your points, but would like to draw out two pieces. re: A3, yes I used ‘should’, and perhaps that’s where the confusion (as you point out in the 2nd sentence of your comment) came from. For some, that may lead people to responses that are or at least sound like personal attacks, and I’d probably word things a bit differently next time. Of course, I never imagined that this post would get this sort of attention. Lessons learned. However, I think it is also important to point out that your carefully crafted response to these queries wholly avoided these personal judgments.

    But my bigger question comes from your response in A2. I don’t have an answer to this, but I question the assumption.

    You write, “The benefits to an individual of openness (esp wrt student work) include promotion and recognition of talent – although this may be just as effectively achieved by communication to a more restricted audience, so the real benefit may be more to society as a whole than to the individuals being exposed.”

    Audience is indeed important, and I wonder about the “restricted audience”. What potential difference to student motivation occurs when you go from being recognized in the classroom, to the local community, to the city, to the province/state, nation, to an international audience (not that most of these borders actually exist these days?). How restrictive is restrictive? At what point is the difference in the size of the audience negligible to student motivation and growth? Of course, this cannot be answered generally, but I think these are interesting questions.

    Thanks to you, and to everyone (everyone!) for your responses to this now almost 6 month old post. :-)

  99. Alec,

    With respect to all of your questions, the issue involves a balancing of benefits and risks. Clearly there are pedophiles cruising public places looking for pictures of children who attract their interest. And they communicate with others. So if your child’s picture gets picked up by one, this will attract the interest of others. This is obviously what happened in your case.

    But having paid attention to the research in this area and the statistics, your daughter faces far greater risks of actual sexual abuse by you (sorry, that is just statistically speaking), an uncle, a grandfather, a teacher, a religious leader, etc.) But still, as a parent, the idea that my daughter or son’s image could end up in some pedophile’s collection is of concern to me and I would seek to prevent this.

    So I am going to consider a variety of issues. Where the image is posted? Who has access to the image? What kind of image – does the image present the child in a manner that would potentially attract the interest of someone with sexual interests in children or teens? What is the reason or benefit derived from posting the image in the place it is posted? And does the reason or benefit outweigh the risk?

    Maybe you can help me. Where I am having problems in balancing benefits and risks in your case is the question of benefit.

    Of what possible benefit is it to you or your daughter that you are posting images of her in a very public place where other people are allowed to “collect” favorite images and share them as a group collection to others – a place where people with unhealthy sexual interests in children and teens are clearly present and active? Please help me understand your reasoning.

    Then, lets transfer this to the school environment. Should a school post images of students on publicly accessible sites? What are the risks and how great are those risks? What are the benefits? What standards should be put in place? Nancy

  100. @Nancy: Good to hear from you. I’ve been a follower of your work. Thanks for your response.

    I’d like to respond first with some clarification. First, when you write “clearly there are pedophiles cruising public places”, one of the things brought up earlier in the comments was the distinction between paraphilia & pedophilia. While clinically, the distinction is more clear, in common usage, the latter term refers to actual physical child sexual abuse. In your later question, this distinction may not be as important, but I think it is important that I use more accurate language to assess what we (as parents) deal with, and more so, what may have happened in this particular case.

    Second, you write “so if your child’s picture gets picked up by one, this will attract the interest of others. This is obviously what happened in your case.” I would agree with your general assessment, but I do not agree that is what happened in my case (and you wouldn’t have had enough information to consider otherwise). Because the person was using similar user names and acted quickly, I am more likely to think that it was one person who noticed being blocked but had a number of alternate user names.

    To your more important question, consider the following blog post re: the children at PS22 in NYC – . I could screen capture any moment of that video. Or, I could scan children in the newspaper. Or, I could go down to the public park with a camera, even a zoom lens, and take photos of children on a daily basis. Access to innocent photographs of children are numerous, we can find literally billions of photographs of children online or offline. What kind of society do we become when we hide photographs, videos, artefacts, and the creative works of our children? What happens to us as a society and as individuals when we buy into this fear culture? As others have commented, women and children are objectified in much worse ways in television and news every single day than the ultimate result of sharing a proud family moment of a child via Flickr. As Will Richardson noted much earlier, where is the outrage in those cases? I’d also note that there are much better places for paraphiliacs to pick up “real” child pornography than from Flickr, where the majority of child photographs (like those of my children) are innocent, fully clothed, and non-provocative.

    As parents, I think it is important as others have noted that we take care in what photos we choose to post, where we post them, what we tag them with, and overall, we need to assess our reasons for sharing. For me, as this conversation has really helped me understand, my reasons are in line with my beliefs of a free, open, and generally good and caring society. I will not exploit my children, but I will raise them in a way that I feel will be to their greatest benefit.

    Most of my photos get only a dozen or so views. I am notified of when these are favorited by someone I don’t know, and I will block. Of course, this doesn’t mean I am in total control of my photographs. And Nancy, I know that you have many photographs of yourself on the web, and you know that you are not in control of these either.

    There is a convicted child killer and rapist who lives in my city, as he was recently granted parole. These are the types of people I fear.
    He committed these crimes about 3 decades ago, long before age of the Internet. In his case, his victims were random. And you have said yourself, the chances are more likely from a relative than a stranger in cases of child sexual abuse. There is not any correlation of the photographs being on Flickr or in public spaces being related to physical sexual abuse, and again, that’s what I think is most important in understanding all of this.

    As for schools, take the case of Kathy Cassidy’s Grade 1 classroom. . I would seriously consider moving to this city if Kathy could be my girl’s Grade 1 teacher. These children are learning in powerful ways and their Internet activities have linked them to experiences that I believe all children should have. They have found an authentic audience, they regularly consult with distant experts, they are mentored by other teachers and preservice teachers, and at an early age they understand the importance in balancing sharing and safety. I do not want the work of my children held hostage in the four walls of a classroom. I want my children to value what it means to live in a free and open society, but to also understand the real risks, not the media-generated absurdities.

    Standards? Let’s create school policies based on the new possibilities of open and connected learning. Let’s help students understand what these new realities mean for digital identity and presence. Let’s educate for a better world, and not let our standards and policies be driven by fear.

    I’m not sure if I really answered your questions, Nancy. Again, I appreciate your questions, and I want to thank you for dropping in on this very important conversation.

  101. I’m very sorry to read about this though I think it’s great that you have shared your story and alerted others to a similar danger. And as much as my wired friends like to shush shush tech panic stories I think a truly critical discussion of the web – in all its glory – must address the dark and very authentic dangers of the web.

    To that end, I also feel it’s necessary to interrogate the philosophy of “open” – a philosophy I support and advocate – along equitable, ethical and democratic terms. Not all forms of information should be accessible to anyone or everyone. Take your intimate conversation with your spouse or indeed your private activities in your home. Unless you are Winston Smith living in an Orwellian dystopia, you can assume that you can enjoy both without surveillance, monitoring or documentation.

    Those who believe that “open” should extend to everything do not respect the individual democratic rights of citizen and individual privacy. And there is such a thing – as quite distinct from institutional, corporate or political space.

    The open movement has to start defining a more respectful term for spaces/content that is not open – beyond “locked down” or “walled.” These terms are essentially negative and connote propriety. As a woman I am especially sensitive to my privacy in a sexist society – and the internet is exceptional in that regard. As a citizen my privacy is a right. When somebody hassles me because I have chosen to protect my Twitter updates I regard that as form of explicit oppression and an socially corrosive attitude.

    While I wouldn’t deign to tell you how you should live your life online I would say – as someone who has experienced bullying and oppression – that there are very good reasons to make certain content private (available only to family and close friends). As much as I’d like to inhabit a more equitable internet where you and I can share our lives more freely we should also respect each others decisions about what we choose NOT to share. This is my message to the open movement.

    I’d also argue that the majority of proponents of the Open Movement appear to be male, white and privileged. Why is that? Because those groups represent a power base that isn’t especially subjected to harm, abuse, exploitation or marginalisation. If any of the Open movement wonders where all the women, teens, minorities and exploited people are it’s because many of us expressly seek “safe” spaces.

    So I’d like to propose a new term: “Safe space” to borrow from the queer community. Would you describe a gay youth shelter as a “walled garden” or a “locked down” environment? No. Because we would understand the nature of that space as being free of oppression.

    The internet is not a space that is free of oppression. For that reason, groups who are oppressed, abused or exploited (including children) should never, ever be admonished for making choices that speak to their needs for safety and freedom from harm.

  102. #106: “To your more important question, consider the following blog post re: the children at PS22 in NYC – . I could screen capture any moment of that video. Or, I could scan children in the newspaper. Or, I could go down to the public park with a camera, even a zoom lens, and take photos of children on a daily basis. Access to innocent photographs of children are numerous, we can find literally billions of photographs of children online or offline. What kind of society do we become when we hide photographs, videos, artifacts, and the creative works of our children? What happens to us as a society and as individuals when we buy into this fear culture?”

    your comments here get at my feelings on the subject. every summer there are numerous photos of children at area public pools or beaches on Lake Michigan. these photos often contain first and last names. big whoop! the thing is, the people subscribing to a newspaper will likely live in the area. they could easily grab a phone book and find an address for the kids in the photos (even area maps in many phone books). this happens without the internet. when people view photos of my children online, it’s more than likely that they live quite far away. i have a 9 year old daughter and i started a blog about our family in 2000 (before blogging was called blogging) to document her growing up. my family and old friends live far away so it was an easy way to keep folks updated on what we’re doing in a general sense. i had a “first bathtub bath” series of photos in 2000 that didn’t show anything other than head shots, but that was the label on the photos. i noticed in my web log that this page of photos was getting an unreal number of hits so i changed the name and a short time later the number of hits was down to normal levels for my site with the newly named bath time photos barely getting a single hit any more. of course, that episode made me think about much of what is discussed in this thread because i didn’t even expect to be getting an audience beyond my family and friends who i had shared the address with (remember, this is 2000). i didn’t consider quitting the online postings at all — the thought didn’t even cross my mind. i did decide to be more careful in how search engines are going to find us. and i decided to keep on posting what i post. now my kids are old enough (7 and 9) that they enjoy picking which photos or videos are included in our online presence, but i don’t always ask them since they always ask to see the photos i’ve taken with the assumption that some might go online. i am not scared about it in the least. not even after reading this whole series of events. the internet is not forcing people to have sick minds and it’s not making it easier for their minds to be sick. there were sickos before the internet was popular. and, like you noted, my kids play at the school right by our house and a person with a telephoto lens locally could be getting tons of photos of my kids quite easily. or, this person could drive to the parking lot of a pool at a club we use and get many more. do i make it easier by choosing the photos i choose to post online? i doubt it, but i don’t know what i am making easier???

    i have an activity in my classes where i have my students (college age) find ed tech blogs and leave comments and hopefully engage in a conversation with an ed tech professional who isn’t me. i tell them they need to let me know who they are, but that they should put “205” in their name if they decide not to use their real name (so they don’t just pick some random comment and claim it as their own — heh). surprisingly to me, most choose to go with their first name and 205 (ellie205), which is fine. however, i wonder why so many are hesitant to just use their name. i suspect that kids today are being taught to be leery of the online world. or, maybe i am over analyzing and it’s as simple as they aren’t putting much thought into the comments they leave and they don’t want to be associated with them outside of class.

    in any regard, i’ve enjoyed the discussion. i do note that there seem to be many folks who are likely educators, if they follow your blog, who are still in fear of someone seeing a photo online. as though it’s different if a photo is posted by a parent or school, yet school aged athletes have their photos online and in newspapers all of the time during a competition without anyone batting an eyelash (e.g., from a swim meet). i struggle to see the harm in having stories or photos posted publicly. i am 9 years into it with my family and i am still far more careful about the physical world (i don’t let my 9 year old go biking without me) than the online one (e.g., that her photo is being looked at by a sicko).

  103. After your initial posting I went to check our class Flickr account, it’s public and open to viewing by anyone. A seemingly innocuous favoriting of children skipping (jump rope?)led me to an account where the focus seemed to be barefoot young girls. Checking back at the photo revealed that there were quite a few barefoot skippers and this was probably what had led the user to favorite it in the first place. I blocked them, but couldn’t see a way to report them to Flickr. Anyway, what would I say? Like you said earlier, this person has committed no crime. It was unexpected and just plain creepy.

    I’m keeping our Flickr account public and will be monitoring it, but even if I catch and block an inappropriate favorite there’s no way to stop people bookmarking or favoriting a page in their browser.

  104. Thanks so much for the personal anecdote. I am often asked by educators who do not maintain an online presence how I protect myself professionally and how I support/protect my own teenage daughters in their own online lives. School librarians generally teach what I online safety principles to students. It is not unusual for this safety training to include outreach to parents on how to ensure that their kids are maintaining in safe practices online. But seldom do K-12 educators consider the importance of teaching parents how to keep their own online lives secure. To be sure, your post has opened an important window in my own professional view…I plan to spread the word!

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  107. Hello,

    I had a similar experience with pictures of our children being favorited, tagged, etc. When we followed the links we came to similar foto galleries as those posted here.

    Although I work in IT and visitor clickstream software, I don’t presume to know how to approach this issue. Therefore I wrote an email to Flickr. No response. I wrote an email to Yahoo. No response. I wrote several emails to both Flickr and to Yahoo, filled in feedback forms, etc. I never received any response (this was 6 months ago).

    Has anybody received any response from Flickr?

    It seems strange to me to not at least receive a response regarding my concerns of child pornography on flickr. My conclusion is that Flickr are trying to ignore this issue in the hopes of it not hurting their revenue streams.

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  111. Hi,
    This is definitely bad. I think all you can do is what you did… Work on making it cleaner is always on from the companies point of view and there will be new features to tackle it, but at the same time spammers like those will find solutions to tackle those features that they introduce. So it feels like a never ending story, and we have to live with it.

    Now if you compare it to the real world, i personally believe worse things, may be similar can happen to us in the real world too. All you can do is protect, try and prevent it from happening, rest as they say is destiny. I liked the post though. :)

  112. There is much confusion about the correct and advisable way of using the internet. Openness does not quite fit with the internet in every aspect… or might not. So, please if you value your intimacy or don`t want something to be seen by other, just don’t publish it!

    Use the email to get your parents abroad the photos of your children. When Internet didn’t exist nobody did stupid things like publishing his daughter photos in the newspaper (is just silly).

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  119. I’m young with an old school mentality. I don’t have and never had a my space, flicker, facebook, or twitter account. My wife has a facebook account and i won’t allow her to put any pictures of our kids on it. And honestly it didn’t take long for my wife to engage in some questionable conversations on facebook. it was proof that i made a good decision about our kids. but what i don’t understand in the need to be public. there are SO many opportunities to share images, messages, etc on private viewing websites like personally i don’t understand ever think that this “new” public forum has ever been sound or safe.

  120. Get off the internet. My girlfriend had HER account flagged for this sort of thing. She is not demented or evil but likes children. The Anne Geddes empire is built on taking pictures of kids that aren’t yours and turning them into something acceptable.

    Before you start the witch-hunt I hope you understand that people that do not want the public (all of the people on the internet) to see their children shouldn’t post in public. Of course in private horrible things happen too. Have you taken the time to inform school administrators to not photograph your child without prior consent. Have you asked other family members to refrain from posting images of your daughter to the internet. And have you asked your daughter how she feels about strangers.

    With Picasa you can share private albums, but sharing is managed with individuals. Selecting groups and tiers of users may be a faster way to spread information but my core group is less than 100 and a list of relevant user emails can be copied and pasted or simply typed in to the most important. The mothers, grandmothers and creepy uncles.

    I know it is tough to understand but your “Think of the children” could lead to repressive laws and I’m more of a “Not in my backyard” kind of guy. Keep the internet free and open – you wouldn’t post your daughter to the library bulletin board.

  121. The GPS information stored on many images can tell those collectors exactly where to find the people in the images. And THAT makes this doubly scary. Picture taken at your home anyone? Be aware.

  122. I never make any photo public where I see any risk, If any album is of my relative then surely I do not make it public and only share the link of the album with my friends.
    It is difficult to track the usage when you make something public. So, better avoid doing it,
    You may love your daughter images and want to be seen by like others but as I have said you cannot control public so better do not share it.

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  132. Although its understandable that any parent would be shocked at a stranger linking or highlighting a picture of their own child; i think its worthwhile stepping back and examining our reactions with less emotion.

    This is in no way meant to be a criticism of the author – im simply trying to move the debate forward a little.

    But to echo ‘Wyatt Mann’ above, is it fair to assume the person collecting these photographs does post a threat? For the sake of argument, it could be perfectly possible that they were collecting photographs for an art project or simply because they were doing a project where there was an aesthetic interest in children of a certain age.

    Please understand im not trolling by saying that, but aside from those mentioned above Germaine Greer brought out a book (The Beautiful Boy) whose explicit point was a study of the ‘male form’.

    Theres an argument to be made that the key difference between those who publish material and those who simply link to it on the internet is the consent of the parents (or those who took the photographs), but then again aren’t we giving an implicit approval by NOT making those photographs private?

    The point im trying to make (perhaps badly make) is that by putting photographs on the internet we’re accepting the risk of harm to our families is much less than the benefits gained by living a life that isn’t locked down all the time. As such is it really in keeping with that ethos of optimism to think the worst of someone who does collect such photographs?

    If such a person was trying to contact children or coercing them into taking photographs of themselves id obviously be alarmed and frankly want them prosecuted.

    But throughout history there have been distinguished individuals who have actually published books that contain pictures of children without those pictures being explicit or sexual in nature. If we don’t think ill of them is it really fair to think ill of random strangers on the internet?

    Regardless, Alec, i wish you and your family well.

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  139. In the end, this comes down to personal choice and comfort level. There is no way to guarantee that twisted individuals won’t misuse public information. As the mother of grown children, I will say that your kids will question many of the decisions you made for them when they were young, from not making them practice the piano (like you didn’t try) to ruining their lives by chaperoning the sixth grade dance, so they probably won’t love those online photos either! As a community, we need to teach our own children about responsible use, report any online abuse we see, and support each others’ right to make decisions for ourselves and our families.

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  143. I hope that Flickr routinely pass the offending users’ contact details to police so that they might be monitored in coming years.

  144. that is just gross. i can’t believe that someone would do that! good thing i keep anything on any other site (like facebook) absolutly PRIVATE! my pictures are shared only with friends and family. i plan to keep it that way!

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