Copyrights, Watermarks, and Creepy Crawly Internet Folks

When you choose to splash your family across the Internet, how do you know when you’re in danger?  I write this blog to keep an online record of Max’s life, and to chronicle my journey as his mother.  I write to gain community.  I write to document what mothering feels like.  And I write because I know that deep down in my core, I am a writer.  I am a writer who is practicing a skill, and honestly, when I write it is an interview.  I’m interviewing for writing jobs.  And sharing my vast knowledge about how to clean vomit out of a car seat and other amazing mothering skills that I feel it is my duty to share with you.  You’re welcome.  Ask me anything about how to get a reflux baby to sleep….I’m here all week.

What is sacred?  How do you know what the boundaries are?  And more importantly, how do you make sure that the Internet Creepers don’t steal pictures of your innocent toddler and pretend that he is their fake baby?  No, it hasn’t happened to me, but it has happened.  Or maybe it has happened to me, and I just don’t know it yet.  Blech.

A friend of mine posted a similar question on FaceBook the other day, and my gut response was to defend what I do here.  “Once our kids are old enough to care what we post about them online, they’ll be asking us “Face-WHAT?” I wrote.  I mean, I write this blog so Max can have a baby book.  You have no idea how un-crafty I am, and all of my most special sentimental things that I’ve collected for him are sitting in a squished up baby book box in my nightstand.  This blog is better than a baby book (I tell myself) because I couldn’t actually CREATE a baby book, even if Michael’s Craft Store opened up in my living room and gave me private crafting lessons.  (Michael’s, if you’re listening though….I will gladly play with review stickers, stamps, the cut-out thingies, some doilies, some fabric paint, those foam visors that you can put glitter on, a decoupage cardboard box, and anything else that you want to send my way.  Oooh…and definitely those cool cupcake holders, and the chocolate-making mold thingies.  I never said I didn’t like PRETENDING to be crafty, I just said I sucked at it.)

As I was saying…the Internet privacy stuff (sorry, distracted by beading projects from Michael’s).  When I’m sitting on my bed typing these posts, I imagine them being read by my mom.  And my best friend.  And now that “the blog” has grown, I think about my sweet new Internet friends, who also write blogs about their own children.  And my preschool mom friends.  And all of the wonderful, safe, loving, trustworthy family-oriented people that read what I write because they “get it”.  It’s all quite peachy and friendly and fabulous, this online community.

Right?

Until it isn’t.

Thinking about the consequences of “putting my shit out on Front Street” makes my stomach turn.  I used to work for the police department.  I know how easy it is for sicko strangers to gain access to everything that a family holds sacred.  I’ve snickered with the Vice Unit when they’ve pulled down the most obscene photos from a scandalous website, or passed around the evidence after a raid.   Online trash is a dime a dozen, and you’d be shocked and disgusted by what the sweet old man who lives next door is looking at after his wife finishes her online shopping.  Some of my dearest friends work for law enforcement, and the stories that they tell about how children are violated on the Internet is enough to make you never hit “post” on a photo of your child again.  There are Internet Creepy Crawlies.  There are pedophiles who will snatch your baby’s bathtub photo and do god knows what with it.  There are weirdos who will figure out where you live and try to friend you on FaceBook.

Ugh.  I’m getting a stomach ache just talking about it.

I like to think that there are two concentric circles that make up your Internet boundaries.  The first circle is the intersection of comfort level and family privacy.  What is YOUR family comfortable with?  How do you establish your boundaries about what is for public consumption and what isn’t?  Some friends never ever ever post pictures of their children on their blogs or use their real names.  Their “blog kids” have names like Tinkerbell and Stinker.  Other friends don’t put any pictures on FaceBook, ever.  Some bloggers name their city and post pictures of their children AND their children’s friends.  My own comfort level is a work in progress.  I spent too many years in a career that stressed heightened personal security to now freely splash my name and personal life all over the Internet where anyone can find me.    Yet as I’m morphing into “Kim the writer”, I’ve been asked by editors if they can use my real name.  So “Mama By The Bay” is now publicly written by Kim Simon, the real life person.  Scary and exposed?  Yes.  But it’s necessary when your blog becomes your resume.  As much as I write for my family, I also write to be heard.  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about how to reach y’all with this blog.  Let’s be honest, I like having an online community.  I enjoy getting to know you.  I want to write things that scatter through the wind like dandelion seeds and land in the backyards of people that I don’t even know.  And I may have also said to my husband this week that there was something that I needed to “SEO the shit out of”.  Hey, I always promised you that I’d be excruciatingly honest here, right?

Then there’s content.  What content is OK to share?  I learned the hard way that sharing some parts of my history, and revealing some of my inner monologue might be hurtful to my family.  It might lead to being over-exposed, and even though it’s only words, information can be just as private as photographs.  Things might seep into the minds of old and new friends, and create more questions than I have answers for.   Don’t pretend like you don’t know what post I’m talking about….yep, I know, I kinda asked for that.  Sorry, won’t happen again.

The second circle is HOW we share.  How do we create safety mechanisms that protect our privacy and ensure our safety?  Some big bloggers have started watermarking their pictures.  When I worked in adoption, part of my job was deciphering adoption scams.  It’s gross and sad, but there were women who pretended to be pregnant so that they could get money and emotional support from prospective adoptive couples.  I’ve seen stolen ultrasound pictures, fake rental agreements, you name it.  It’s one of the many “hidden secrets” of the adoption world, but it’s made me incredibly aware of how prevalent the online wackos can be.   How do you ensure that your “intellectual property” doesn’t get stolen and passed off as someone else’s?  How do you protect your photos so that someone else doesn’t assume your family’s identity and share your life as their own?  I never identify the part of the Bay Area that I live in.  I would never give the name of my son’s school, or where my husband works.  But is that enough?

So I’m asking you.  What are YOUR thoughts on how much exposure is too much?  How do YOU protect your children online?  Is it enough to believe that people are primarily good, and that an online community will do right by you?  Are YOU an Internet wacko, and are you laughing at how naive I sound right now?  Get your hands off that picture, bitch….that’s MY kid!

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Comments:

  1. That’s a lot to think about. One other thing we should consider is geotagging in photographs. Most pictures taken with a smartphone will include longitude and latitude. Posting a picture taken with that device will almost always retain that info. You can strip it out with the right tools or you can sometimes disable that feature on your phone.

    One great example of how this information can cause you trouble is one of the members of Anonymous got nailed by posting a picture of his girlfriend which he took with his smartphone. The cops were able to piece together everything they needed to know based on the date and location stored in the picture.

    Having said all that, you can’t stop living for fear of dying. Don’t go hide under a rock.

    Thanks for sharing the reminder of the risks.

    • Fantastic point about geotagging….yuck. I usually disable all geotagging on my phone, but it’s one of those ways that people sometimes slip and forget to have that extra level of privacy. (BTW for those reading…our friendly commenter “Sean” is not my husband Sean. Same name, same spelling, but husband Sean would never talk about “Anonymous” 😉 Welcome, new Sean!! Any friend of Tori’s is a friend of mine…unless of course you are a crazy Internet stalker…he he!

      • Thanks for the welcome!

        Yup, whole different Sean. I’ve been called “crazy” and other spiffy things, but “stalker” hasn’t been one of them. I actually do work in network and computer security stuff, so things like this are very much a focus for me. I don’t like to say I’m an expert on the topic since I work with guys that run circles around me. But then I also have my own silly blog where I write about my kids DangerMuffin and Peanut The Destroyer all the darned time… so… hmm.

        Anyway thanks again for the welcome and the introduction. I hope I can visit frequently 🙂

        — nonSean 🙂

  2. Alexandra says:

    OK, this might sound really stupid, but what exactly COULD a Bad Person do with your child’s photos? Get all emotionally attached and then try to find the child? Oh….I guess I answered my own question.

    Hm. When I posed the question on FB I actually wasn’t thinking security; I was thinking of Milo’s right to privacy….Do you hide your city on your Facebook profile? You’re already way ahead of me. I don’t take any precautions on FB. Until just about a month ago, my entire profile was public. Like you, I WANTED to make as many connections as possible and have as many viewers as possible. I guess I trust too much. Fortunately, I’ve never had anything truly bad done to me. I’ve never been a victim of a crime. I had a stalker/peeper just before we left Oakland and when they finally arrested him, it was only after he had raped another woman. So I should have been scared shitless. Should be now. But for some reason I just don’t get scared and have this weird feeling that everything will be fine. I’ve had bikes stolen. I’m careful about bikes. But even the fact that I’ve had multiple bikes stolen proves that I’m not THAT careful. I’m guessing I’m on the far end of one side of the spectrum on this topic and that most people will lean the other way.

    • Alex, the FB thing is an interesting conundrum actually. I am waaaay more open on there than I am here, primarily because I assume that anyone I’m friends with there I must know in real life (with a few exceptions). However, I see Sean’s point (Sean the commenter above, not Sean my husband 😉 that it’s still public, and could still present a safety issue. And as I said in my text to you last night, holy shit a stalker story????? Will email you in a bit about our next playdate 😉

  3. Hi,
    I really don’t want to answer that because it scares the willies out of me. People are wired funny at best and the bad ones, well the cheese is already sliding off the cracker. And I’m an optimist sun-shiney-kind of person. Bad Person could (a) do all his research at his own pace and from a distance (b) can identify the child (c) can identify where the child is based on some of the pictures, maybe figure out a schedule. So yeah, there’s badness. He can get WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN just by being patient.

  4. You’ve hit on some important points. It’s tough. I think we have to just do what feels right as it all unfolds. For now I am comfortable with pictures on my site. I am generally a little too open about where I live, but it’s NYC. Where strangers on more than several occasions over the years have snapped shots of both my son and daughter on the subway. Not kidding. What can I do? It’s bizarre.

    But like Sean said, you can’t live in fear or move under a rock. There were creepy crawlers LONG before the internet existed and they will always find a way. I can’t censor my blog to anticipate their every move.

    Right?

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful post. It is something I have thought about since I began blogging, but put at the back of my mind. Kind of like how my kids are going to feel when they are older knowing I have written stories about them for the world to see. I think it is something to be aware of but shouldn’t keep us from doing something we love.

    • Jessica, thanks for stopping by! I totally agree with you….I tend to put the dangers in the back of my mind too. I want to be as cautious as possible, but I also don’t want the crazies to stop me from doing something that I think is really important and that I enjoy.

  6. Carinn, that’s exactly the philosophy that I take. I think that the internet has more “good” than “bad”, and I feel like I do the best that I can to protect us, and then hope for the best. Sometimes I worry that I’m in denial, but I also feel like there are creepers everywhere….our kids are probably in more danger at the park than they are online, in some ways. Ick.

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