Sharenting also proliferates at school: the risks

New school year, new temptations to share photos of their children on social networks. Temptation dangerous.

What is sharenting, at school

Is called sharenting the tendency to share the lives of their children on social networks, a habit that also spreads in the classrooms that children return to populate without masks after two years of pandemic. And not just for the souvenir photo of the first day of the school year.

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The phenomenon, already common in social and family contexts, is increasingly widespread also among class desks, but hides numerous risks, whenever the protection of minors is not put at the center.

“Pictures of children are often posted online,” she comments Marco Martoranalawyer, President Assodata, “without due attention and without a clear knowledge of the risks one runs” whenever permission is not sought from parents.

“The problems are truly innumerable,” he confirms Alessio Pennasilico, Information & Cyber ​​Security Advisor at P4I, “and the technological part is laughable compared to the cultural context. First of all, we are used to thinking of the Internet as Las Vegas for Americans (what happens in the Californian city remains there and does not leave that context). Internet and social media as ‘something else’ compared to everyday reality. Instead we don’t realize that what happens online always has consequences for us and others. There is low awareness and high underestimation of risk ”.

Here’s what the issues are and how to solve them, according to the privacy and cyber security experts we interviewed.

Sharenting at school: more risks than opportunities

The children of social networks, already online from the prenatal stage, from the first ultrasound, are defined as the Alpha generation. They are born after 2010 and are the true digital natives, whose parents shared their first cries and dances online with the diaper in the foreground, without worrying about when the minors will become adults, jealous of their privacy or fearful of ending in the crosshairs of cyberbullying.

The sharenting (crasis of share + parenting: sharing and parenting) it refers not so much to an occasional publication on the web of a shot of the children, perhaps on public occasions, but to the phenomenon of the constant and exhibited “window dressing” of the children via social networks (Instagram, TikTok etc.). The risks are identity theft, solicitation and pedophilia, the collection of information (web scraping), the replacement of a person or the attempt to enter into relationships with minors. for purposes that are not always transparent or even criminal.

“The risks of sharenting are in fact numerous”, warns the lawyer Martorana, “first of all some malicious people could capture the images and use them incorrectly. But there are also problems related to improper use of those photographs.

For example, someone could pretend to be a friend of one of the parents and, by exploiting personal information left by adults recklessly on social media, they could sneakily pick up their child’s trust, knowing that a child would generally not trust anyone. In fact, a minor feels authorized to trust only those who – knowing so many personal details – introduce themselves as a family friend. There are therefore activities that can lead to the replacement of a person or to the collection of images that strangers could keep for obscure reasons and / or for an indefinite time ”, warns Martorana.

The three risk factors of sharenting in school

“People don’t have awareness and underestimate the risks about the enormous amount of information that can be gleaned from online photo publications “, underlines Pennasilico:” These problems should not be separated from blind faith in technology which in the common imagination is seen as invincible and invulnerable. These three factors are valid in general, but take on greater importance in the case of sharenting, both inside and outside the school ”.

“There are concrete risks today and for the future. One risk concerns the reputation: every teenager’s nightmare is the exposure of the family album to the new girlfriend brought home for the first time. If those photos end up online, they may be funny when we’re five, but they could get awkward at 17. However, it’s not just a matter of embarrassment: certain images or videos could trigger episodes of cyber bullying“.

Not just privacy

However, more disturbing scenarios can also occur. “These images could even undergo a data scraping, on the part of those who collect information, store them, and exfilter data. Furthermore, these photos could be embarrassing or create uncomfortable situations: perhaps not now, but in the future. On a strategic-military level, we must think that today it is a child who will become the future President of the United States in over thirty years. But if his parents did sharenting, they could put their son in serious embarrassment or even in situations that could be blackmailed, once elected “.

The dangers of metadata

The metadata and information contained in a photo are numerous. “In sharenting the image of a child entering school on the first day of the school year, I am offering others a number of relevant details: whether the child is dark or blond, what school is, what class is he in, it is easy to trace the name of the child back to the surname, just see who is doing the sharenting “.

In addition, “there is a whole set of information – such as date, time, geo-location, device, etc. – that once took a bad guy weeks of stalking to get it.” Instead, now it is the parents who feed this information to a stranger, who will be able to discover “other details from social networks, such as the dog’s name, hobbies and so on. If tomorrow a stranger who pretends to be our relative and confirms many personal details comes to the secretariat at school, he could, in some cases, be able to take a child, without having a signed proxy ”.

School without authorization should never let a child out without parental signed authorization, “but an attempt would be enough to alarm us. The dangers are therefore numerous. And, after a similar episode, parents could take drastic measures, putting their children under a glass bell, with an impact on the psychology of their children ”.

Furthermore, “we cannot assume that a photo sent to a group remains confined there: the platform could change access policies in the future, making what was previously protected visible to all. Other times devices and platforms are at risk of vulnerability. So a malicious hacker could violate the privacy of photos (even unshared ones), exploiting flaws in digital devices, to make public even what was super private “.

But there is sharenting and sharenting. “We can in fact tolerate that the sports association publishes the photo of the children at a match or at an award ceremony”. As parents we can therefore make an exception to the rules, while always maintaining a high awareness of the risks.

Solutions and advice to stem the phenomenon

“The solutions to these problems are not at all simple”, suggests Martorana: “On the first day of school, parents should avoid framing the children of others in the photo that will be shared on social networks. The reason is that the parents of others did not grant permission to sharenting at school. Furthermore, it is not easy to decide who can grant the authorization: the authorization of a single parent is not enough, but those of both are needed; for example, grandparents cannot post photos without parental permission. In the Netherlands there is already a case of a grandfather being sanctioned because the grandson’s parents did not want the image to be made public“.

“To face the solutions, first of all it is necessary understand who is the person who can grant the authorization to publish the photos, at school or in other areas. In today’s extended or non-extended families, the boundaries between lawful and wrongful are by no means so peaceful. Sometimes the issues arise later, when the child becomes a teenager. Minors fear cyberbullying. Finally, other times the photos are published by journalists, by the school, by the sports team: even in these cases, it is necessary to request authorization. There are precautions to always take into account when we talk about minors and the context in which the publication takes place ”, concludes Martorana.

“The advice to give to parents is simple,” he points out Pennasilico: “We all take lots of photos of our children. However, the images remain in a private context. When the children come of age, they will decide what kind of images they want to give of themselves to the world. They will establish it, independently, when they are of the right age to do so “.

“Today, as a parent, I cannot imprint the image of the children. I can’t decide for them. Our role is to educate children as a parent. So, let’s leave it to their daughter to make their own decisions about their image ”.

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Sharenting also proliferates at school: the risks – Digital Agenda