I started writing a family blog many years ago, mostly to update my family and friends that lived far away with daily anecdotes and pictures of our family. It soon took the place of my scrapbook, and I loved being able to write in so much detail, and include all of our favorite photos. I started publishing them each year, and they are our treasures…our family history.
I use blogger, and I’ve always had it set to be “public”, meaning anyone with the link could access and view it. I never really figured that anyone besides my own family and friends would have any interest in it, and if it wasn’t public, the feed wouldn’t be available to be viewed in Google Reader, or any other reader (now that GR is gone). I was also extremely careful about protecting our identity, because it was public. I only used my kids’ first names, never our last name (or even my first name), didn’t mention specifics of our town, blacked out identifying signs–names of schools, teams, etc.–used a pseudonym, and even avoided any mention of our name in the url address or blog title. I thought with all of that, we would be pretty safe. I consider myself cautious, not paranoid, and recognize that while improbable, it was not impossible that someone could get on my blog and endanger my family’s safety in some way. I did take our family’s online photo safety very seriously.
As part of monitoring who was accessing my blog, I installed statcounter, and used it in addition to the stats on blogger. They have different functions and abilities, but they both were able to indicate who was reading. Over the years, I checked less frequently, because there never seemed to be a problem, but just a couple of months ago, I was profoundly shocked by what I found.
When I checked the stats on blogger, which shows the referring and entering url addresses of those coming to my blog, I noticed one url in particular that I didn’t recognize, with 40+ hits every day for a couple of weeks. That’s a lot for my little family blog! Despite it being a very normal url address–nothing to indicate anything pornographic–I had the shock of my life when I clicked on it, and saw what was there. I won’t give details, but it was horrible. I quickly realized after a little investigation, that somehow photos of my family and kids had ended up on that site, along with the link, and people were coming from that site over to mine. The improbable had happened. It was a huge wake-up call!!!
I immediately changed my blog status to private, limiting those able to view to those of my choosing, and who then had to sign in to access it. I also made it so that it couldn’t be searched for on a search engine, limiting it even further. All of a sudden, the statistics didn’t matter so much, because it had happened to me. When this happens it can sometimes be “referrer spam” and if so, your pictures aren’t actually being taken or used. However, it’s enough to make the potential of something happening much more real. It still motivated me to take more action, and make some real decisions about how I wanted to handle photos of my children online. With the ever-present world of technology that we live in, these issues will become just become more prevalent.
These tips are based on my knowledge as of now, and I certainly have a lot to learn. So, if there’s something I didn’t include, or should have included, please let me know!
Did You Know…
Even if your family blog is intended only for family and friends, the images and photos you upload and post can and will come up in Google image searches. Anyone who sees those images can also save them to their computer. It may not be a predator–it may be someone who then claims that picture as their own, either for personal or business use (which according to what I’ve read is the more likely scenario.) Your blog pictures can also come up when someone searches for something other than images. Both blogger and statcounter can tell you what keyword searches were made to lead someone to your blog. For example, I discovered that people had found my blog by searching “clothes for 10 year old boys”, and were led to a post that I had written about how hard it was to find clothes for my 10 year old boy.
“Parents are grappling with what is safe, and what fears are irrational. As with most debates about child safety, the risks are not as severe as many imagine. But neither is posting photos online as safe as many assume.” (New York Times)
I’ve read that quote several times, and while it seems like it’s not directly answering “is it safe?”, what it tells me is that we should be careful, cautious, and take preventative measures to safeguard our kids the best we can. Exactly what those measures might be are up to you, and I’m going to share a few tips that might help you make the decision that you feel good about, and is right for your family.
This post is not intended to panic or scare anyone, nor am I saying what you should or shouldn’t do–it’s simply adding my experience to your knowledge base, so that you have even more information. Knowledge is power, and I want to add to what you know, and give you some tips that can help you and your family.
MY SUGGESTIONS & TIPS TO CONSIDER:
If you have a public blog…
1. Install Statcounter. It’s super easy to do, and you can track all sorts of things that are important to watch, including download stats, keyword searches, which posts are receiving the most hits, where people are coming from that are reading your blog, and more. I like to check for which pictures have been downloaded, and if you notice something strange, you can then see the IP address and other information about the person who downloaded or looked at them. You really need it in addition to blogger, whose stats aren’t always completely reliable. If something does happen, you can use statcounter for further investigation, to see if it’s spam, or perhaps the real thing.
2. Watermark your photos
This will prevent anyone (or at least make it much more difficult) from taking the photos of your family and children and claiming them as your own. It might be a pain if you’re not used to doing it, but it’s definitely something to consider. Once you start, it becomes second nature, and goes much more quickly when you’ve done it for awhile. It can be done easily with free programs like Picasa and Pic Monkey.
3. Block out identifying objects
With a public blog, and pictures that can be seen by anyone, it’s a good idea to crop or black out identifiers, such as signs, tee shirts with local logos, etc. I’ve blacked out elementary school info, local library signs, and anything else in the background that could tell someone where we live.
4. Use pseudonyms, or first names only
The less personal information you share the better, when it comes to a public blog. If you don’t need to use your full name, don’t! If you feel more comfortable with first names only, that works too.
5. Switch your blog to private
If you want to block anyone that you don’t know or wish to have reading your blog, change it to private–by invite only. (I’m not sure if you can do this on wordpress.com–if you know, please leave me a comment!) With blogger, you send invites to the e-mail addresses of friends and family, then once accepted, they have to sign in in order to read your blog.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’ve definitely made changes as I’ve done so. I really hope that my experience, and these tips, will at the very least give you a little more information to consider as you’re making your own decisions regarding your family and blog.