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What's your family's digital footprint?

Reading an article, We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online, on Slate.com really had me thinking about what kind of digital footprint we are creating for our children and families. You've probably had this conversation before or at least thought about it - how much information is too much? A survey by AVG Technologies shockingly revealed that 81 per cent of children under two in North America, Europe, Australia/New Zealand and Japan have a digital profile. Many of them often start their digital legacy as a sonogram!


(Pic: twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
While the Slate article verges on paranoia (I can't imagine not giving my child any digital presence), there is a point to ponder about what constitutes the right kind of information to be shared in the public domain. Social media sites and blogs have become havens for sharing and in fact, chronicling our lives online. I think it's a good thing - it is wonderful to share beautiful moments spent with your family or your child's first words with whoever is interested in reading. It feels even better when someone comes back and tells you about theirs. This is our new reality - our new social order.

But I have always had this niggling feeling that we are not entirely in control of our digital identities, specifically of our children. As parents, we take every care to control the privacy of what we share. Bloggers usually adopt pseudonyms for their children, making it very difficult for their identities to be ever known. My concern is not about now, but the future.


How will technology change?
Right now, our searches are mostly word based, but the future will bring with it more efficient forms of facial recognition. There might be other indicators as well that may be used for online identification, such as visible marks on the skin. Who knows? It may start off for social good to track criminals, but may soon be adopted for the rest of us. I envision a scary future where Google+ has evolved into a universal database of people, places and information around the world. By typing in a name and uploading a photo (Google already has image-based search), you could probably uproot a mega profile of that person, which would collate everything that has ever been written about him or her. Even if not by name, our children may be identified by their faces or even their association with us. Maybe this is not so scary after all, because the future generation may be cool with it. They may even have control over what they want to show and hide. Even then, it would be a mammoth task for them to review everything attached to their digital identity.

What about public domain?
Right now, we own the rights to everything we publish. But after 80 or 100 years, that may well go into public domain. I am not clear about the legal aspects, but there is some limitation to personal copyright. It may be a good thing - allowing our future generations to know their ascendants better. But it may also be a gamble - that material can be freely shared by anybody. I think we should be entitled to deciding how we want to 'dispose' of our material - whether we want it to go into public domain, or pass it on to someone in the family. And why not? Our digital material is as personal and important to us as our physical assets. In the future, I guess we'll have fewer memoirs that we can display on the mantelpiece, and more that we carry in our devices.

What happens to brand associations?
We are associated with brands in many ways, whether you're commenting on a product on Twitter, or writing a review in a blog post. Often, our children are mentioned in this context. In the future, will our children want to be associated with these brands? Will those brands stand for the same values they do today? This is a tough one, and something I hope we can work out. Maybe we can start by specifying the duration of our affiliation with brands and companies.

I will be observing developments in online privacy and social technology very closely, and perhaps, sharing them on this blog. I also look forward to inputs from you!

Tell me - what are your concerns about sharing information about your family online?

This post has been linked to Post Comment Love  and The Sunday Parenting Party.

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