An innocent birthday party picture posted on Facebook or an Instagram shot of the grandkids cavorting at the beach can earn you a lecture from a son or daughter-in-law about the dangers of stalkers and online privacy.
But is sharing a little grandparental pride online really so bad?
It can be, says Parry Aftab, who not only is a grandmother but also a preeminent lawyer who has specialized in digital privacy and cybersecurity for more than 20 years. Aftab is a vocal consumer advocate in the New York City area and has advised organizations — from the United Nations to UNESCO — on privacy and the risks to children online.
"I've got grandsons, so I know how grandparents can disagree with parents about what happens online,” she says.
Innocuous posts can land elsewhere
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking can be triggered from a seemingly anonymous photo posting. But photos on sites such as Facebook and Google are tagged automatically with a series of keywords that can identify the child, and those photos can end up in databases used by businesses, law enforcement, marketers, schools — even foreign governments, Aftab says.
‘Modern technology makes it all too easy for photos or personal information that are shared with the best of intentions to be exploited and used to do harm.’
Unbeknownst to most consumers, digital photos also often include embedded time and location information, which makes it even easier to track people and their families. So images combined with other clues, like a seemingly innocuous “Happy birthday!” caption, can yield personal information that makes someone more vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.
"It's important for grandparents to understand that privacy is not about ‘hiding.’ It's about safety,” says Deputy Director Evan Greer of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital-rights advocacy group based in Boston. “Modern technology makes it all too easy for photos or personal information that are shared with the best of intentions to be exploited and used to do harm."
Your kids aren't the only ones who might get upset. The grandchildren themselves may call you out.
Kids today are remarkably sophisticated about the use of social media, particularly when it comes to how they present themselves online. Even though they're technically not supposed to use some of these services, preteens invest a lot of time in their online persona, which they tightly monitor and control.
Having Grandma post a less-than-flattering picture of them can torpedo all those efforts.
Think of how a parental unit can embarrass a child in a store or restaurant. Now multiple that by thousands.