Imagine this: You're online scrolling through Facebook notifications when you come across an unusual message saying that one of your family photos has been shared online — by someone you've never met. A few clicks later and you find your picture — a photo of your children — on a website from another country. You can't understand the text, but you can see that the of your little girls is there amongst photos of other little girls from around the world. And that photo links directly back to your Facebook page, giving anyone who looked at the site access not only to an image of your children, but also your home address and other personal information.
Scared yet? How about this:
You get a message from a friend that they thought they saw a picture of your daughter on a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend's profile page. You click on the page and find lots of photos of your daughter accompanied by comments from the poster — a man you have never met — about how she is his daughter and how much they look alike.
Um, excuse me?
These are not isolated incidents. They are real situations that have happened to real families, and they involve a new disturbing trend that is sweeping through social media: digital kidnapping.
Digital kidnapping is when someone steals a photo that you have posted online — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et cetera — and posts it on their own social media or page or website claiming that it (and the people in it) are their own. Compared to the huge number of photos posted online each day, the incidences of digital kidnapping are rare. But they are still real and completely avoidable if you take a few steps now to protect your family.
For starters, it's time to get familiar with the privacy settings on social media. At a minimum, your posts and photos should be set to "Friends Only." This should keep folks who you are not friends with from sharing your pictures. But you may want to take things one step further. The privacy app KidsLink shares photos only with approved friends and family members who are also part of your network. You can also share images to Facebook or Instagram via the app, which strips away location and linking data that may be connected to the photo.
Of course, you could always do what some families have chosen to do after experiencing digital kidnapping and go dark. No more social media posts. No pics of the kids online. Nothing for the stalkers to search or steal.
That's certainly one way to keep your family photos safe, but it's also a bit like hiding in the closet.
If you want to share your memories and photos online without worrying about digital kidnapping, just button down those privacy settings and use a privacy app to filter out the bad guys and make sure that your family fun is shared only with the people you want to see it.
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- 5 tips to keep kids safe online
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- The new science of online security