Oh flickr please…

After a lovely few days away in North Yorkshire I went back to my flickr account to upload the latest few photos. To my horror, yet more *sick* people had faved photos of my children, completely innocuous photos (to me), but not apparently to some.

When I checked on the (open) accounts of the people (unknown to me) choosing images of my children to take as their own favorites, I found page upon page of similar images – innocence suddenly turned into something ghoulish.

There has been a slow increase in the number of images being identified and ‘faved’, I am not so creeped out by the ones of my friends and family looking buxom (although it is a bit weird) – but when it is kids, in this instance my own – it causes a fury in me.

Now I suspect that I will be berated for innocently uploading all photos to flickr – ditching the dodgy camera angles and any photo of me with a double chin – but basically uploading the lot; with a sort of innocent mind (double chin being the main cause for pressing delete or private, but of course obviously *potentially dodgy* ones of the children too) – now I feel foolish and as if I have wantonly put up my own children for public consumption <- appreciate that I have. But not intentionally – but how can I be so stupid?

Two things

Two things bother me about this:

1. Why the hell is there not a report button on flickr that can alert someone… (er CEOP?) to those flickr accounts faving images of children, brazenly!

2. My stance on open data in government – I continue to wholeheartedly support this, but my disgust at the use of my own data by people I don’t know, for purposes I don’t endorse, leads me to hesitate… not sure why yet, I need to think about this…

Way more important than what I might think about cataloguing and freeing up data, is question 1. How can people who view images of children as sexually satisfying, even if it is simply a photo of them standing; openly identify, own and then re-use them without any fear of reprise?

I can hear the court defence argument now: there is no proof that this person – who collected a flickr album of pre-teens – was using the images for anything illicit…

It makes me very angry and it also makes me hesitate – again – in the work I do…

If paedophiles can operate so openly because of the transparency of the web, yet be protected by a variety of laws – how can we seriously blinker ourselves to the possibility that this might not stop at the crime of paedophilia?

I am so torn because I fundamentally believe in truth, and that spin should have no place in the protection of society – hence my passion for open data in government (not just politics). But if we open up our own personal data voluntarily – and then immediately become victims of our own mortal/personal enemies (i.e. those predators who hunt our families/children) – then how can I willingly endorse and attempt to enforce the opening of our country’s information?

I could lose, in both situations – catastrophically.

Before I go any further in my open support for freeing up data, I think that I am going to have to put my parental head on, and have a really good think about what practically we could do to apply intelligence to the data we make available (in all formats :)).

In the mean time, Steph Gray has a good post on the open data conversation, I am going to go and calm down (and work through years of flickr photos – making every photo of mine or anyone else’s children private).

I will come back to this in a few days.

24 responses

  1. So how did you know people had been choosing images as favs? I can’t see anything on the photos I have posted that might tell me. I have only just registered for the stats package if it’s there. This sort of thing should be blown wide open

  2. I have a pro account, it may be that you are only notified when you pay for it… which is worse. But I have a messages page that tells me when people have faved my photos with a link to which image and a link to the person’s flickr account.

  3. First point: I agree with the thrust of your argument. I’ve had pics of my kids faved before and ’tis not something that I like the idea of. I now tend to put some photos in ‘family’ view only, as a result.

    However: “I can hear the court defence argument now: there is no proof that this person – who collected a flickr album of pre-teens – was using the images for anything illicit…”

    Well, there isn’t. It could be someone collecting photos of children for a school or university project; looking at photos of kids for illustrative purposes; studying how/why/when people take photos of their kids. Yes, it might be unlikely, but accusing someone of paedophilia is a big thing, so you need to be sure of it first…

    Which is why – although I’m fine with a “report potentially dodgy” button – the solution needs to be permissions based. Only open permissions of photos of your kids to people you know and trust. That might mean you need more people in your friends and family circles, if you want them to be able to see, but so be it…

    PS I have a non-paid for account, and I get notified (under “recent activity”) if anyone faves any of my stuff.

  4. I share your pain on this, which I read just after putting pictures on flickr which included children having fun. It had never occurred to me that they might have any wider, still less salacious, interest, but I still distinguish between pictures which include children who are in any way recognisable and those which don’t. The former are private and copyright, the latter are open and creative commons.

    But that’s for a different reason, which also resonates with bigger questions about data and how it is owned and controlled. I think I lack informed consent to publish personal images. The consent would be easy, being informed much less so, not least because I don’t think any of us knows what the implications are of childhood pictures circulating and resurfacing. All the concern about Julie Myerson and her children a couple of months ago is a much bigger example of the same question: what right do we have to compromise our children’s privacy?

    And in the batch of pictures I have just put on flickr, there is one which has a friend’s daughter in the middle of the frame. Her being there is what makes the picture work, but she is a tiny faceless blob in a big picture. In the end I put that one in the public category, but it worries me that I stopped to worry about it.

  5. Jack, I know. I do realise that I need to actually manage my account better to prevent anyone being able to do this – and it has been entirely my fault that I have left myself open to such a thing happening.

    Also that paedophilia is a serious accusation and that collections of pictures of other peoples’ children COULD be innocent – at a stretch (and I do not peretend to actually have the solution – btu I think that someone should be thinking about it).

    It does raise questions in my head about how careful we all need to be with professional and personal data – and how the idyll may not be possible in a predatory world.

    However, my thoughts are not yet worked through enough for me to properly say anything yet.

  6. It’s not only just pictures to be honest: many of us talk about our kids online, and there’s not only the risk of identity theft (do we say “it was her birthday on saturday?” and leave it on the net?) but it also allows for social engineering to enable potential abductors to know Auntie’s names and so on to spin a good story.

    Which is why I’m gradually removing the names of my children from stuff online as and when I come across it…

  7. I must admit, whenever I post any photos of the boy on Flickr, they are always marked as friends and family only, to avoid this sort of thing. It would freak me out a bit too.

    I guess this is one of the key things for people coming to the social web – deciding how you approach sharing various bits of your stuff. I’m happy to be more-or-less totally open about me stuff, but less so with my family.

  8. “collections of pictures of other peoples’ children COULD be innocent”

    Unless your children were naked, is it really likely that anyone would be interested sexually? I don’t know many adult men who consider photos of clothed women as ‘porn’, for comparison. Don’t let the UK media’s shrill cries cloud out rational thought about this.

    (Wanders off to search for ‘the psychology of paedophilia’, with some trepidation).

    I generally agree with JackP, except for this:

    “there’s not only the risk of identity theft”

    Much lower than giving it to any government department, as the last couple of years have neatly demonstrated.

    I think you’re starting to get a clearer picture of the elephant in the room, Emma. Damascus is thataway.

  9. More explicitly, you are concerned about the possible uses to which information/images *you willingly submitted* is/are being put, yet you, and others here (and I, in the past before I thought about it) work for the largest organisation in the country dedicated to collecting such information – and much, much more – from you under threat of implied violence, fine or incarceration with no recourse whatsoever. UK kids are being fingerprinted, DNA swabbed, tracked, photographed and databased by strangers, and for access by thousands of other strangers, who have no connection whatsoever with you or your family. And that’s even before the ‘ID’ database comes into force.

    Really, a few bookmarked images on flickr are the least of your problems.

  10. Alex, appreciate your views – but don’t agree that the bookmarked photos were innocent, nor the least of my problems.

    Thanks for sharing though🙂

  11. Fair enough. And yes, ‘the least’ was erroneous on my part, as were the spelling/grammar mistakes (typing with a two-year-old trying to pour milk into my ear).

    Something more pragmatic that might help you feel better: I’d have thought that any paedophile truly interested in your pictures would have surreptitiously downloaded them rather than bookmarked them. The first action is anonymous while the second leaves an obvious trail, as you’ve discovered.

    Have you considered contacting the people concerned and asking them outright why they’re interested in your photos? I don’t know if that’s actually possible through flickr, but if so I’m sure we’d all be interested to read their replies.

  12. I keep thinking about this: well done for posting something so thought-provoking.

    To summarise your original post: “I put some photos of my children on a public website. Some people like them, and similar photos, therefore I want those people to be investigated as suspected paedophiles. And I’m pretty sure they’re guilty so I’d really like the burden of proof to be on them, if possible.”

    It’s a little too ‘thought-crime’ for my liking, but that’s missing the wider point. The UK state is collecting far more personal information about your children than any paedophile, with no fundamental right to do so. Is that OK because the state is ‘good’?

    Thing is, I never met ‘the state’ when I worked in the civil service. I only met people, lots of different people. Out of perhaps 50 I knew reasonably well, at least one and possibly two had convictions or cautions for sex offences (you told me about one of them yourself). I doubt they were the only ones in the public sector.

    Thanks to the increasingly frantic government collection and centralisation of personal data, these people or others like them will have no trouble accessing all the information they want about your children: age, gender, eye and hair colour, where they live, where they go to school, any trouble they’ve been in, the names of their friends, psychological profiles and vulnerabilities, photographs, parents’ marital problems and health issues, etc., etc.

    As a parent I understand your anger. If anyone personally threatened my kids in any way I doubt I’d rely on the law to resolve matters.

    But by far the biggest threat to your children, and even more so their children, is the organisation you work for, which is historically responsible for more actual child abuse (through violent care homes and youth detention centres, failing schools, Borstals, misguided social services, prejudicial laws, economic and social discrimination, the list goes on) than any other, outdoing even the Catholic church.

    I’m impressed that you’ve had the guts to say this episode has made you stop and think about the way data is being used. There’s a lot to ponder.

  13. There are 1.5 billion users of the internet (AMD, January 2009).

    Over 30% of people have been sexually aroused in their adulthood by a person under the age of 16.

    You have an unhealthy view of what humanity consists of, if you think that by posting pictures of children onto flickr, nobody is going to use them for sexual gratification.

    You said: “I can hear the court defence argument now: there is no proof that this person – who collected a flickr album of pre-teens – was using the images for anything illicit…”

    Being a paedophile – and indeed – amassing and using legal pictures of children, is not illegal. If you can’t cope with this, don’t flickr your kids; and indeed, you should probably conceal yourself in a locked room for the rest of your life.

    It really angers me that people can be so ignorant as to believe that sexuality can be confined or restricted. Paedophilia is not a crime, it’s not an illness, it’s a sexuality.

    Yes, children should be protected, and anybody approaching a child for sexual gratification should be punished harshly. But then, there’s a difference between a paedophile and a child molester, just as there’s a difference between a straight man and a rapist.

    There is nothing wrong with someone using whatever material they like to satisfy themselves alone, it doesn’t affect anyone else in the slightest.

  14. I, again probably foolishly, did not mean this post to be a rant about paedophiles. More about the consequences of having our own data freely open on the web and how I felt about its use/re-use.

    The comments have been thought-provoking, but perhaps not what I intended, but hey, that’s the point I suppose.

    I am going into a supremely busy time with work and Rewired State so – perhaps unfortunately – this post will remain the Home Page post for a bit until I have the time to post intelligently.

  15. And Tom, I don’t agree with or endorse your views at all, but in the name of open discussion I have (reluctantly it has to be said) approved your comment.

  16. Well, Tom has neatly blown my argument about presumed innocence out of the water, so the score is Emma 1, Alex 0 on that point. And well done Emma for deciding to publish Tom’s post.

    Which, it has to be said, made me very angry when I first read it, and even now disgusts me.

    But (through clenched teeth) Tom has a point. I have argued strongly elsewhere against the idea that observation can be a crime, because without a victim there is no crime. Offending me as a parent doesn’t count, because offence is a feeling, and if you legislate on the basis of feelings your legal system is heading downhill fast.

    To prosecute on the basis of observation is to prosecute on the basis of thoughts rather than actions. That scares me far more than someone gaining sexual gratification from photos of children.

    Which brings things neatly back full circle to Emma’s point about being careful about how data is placed and used in the public domain.

    In this flickr example, as the owner of the images, Emma can make this particular problem go away, at least for her. My concern is that once my children’s information is in government hands, I no longer have that option.

  17. Hi
    I admire and agree with your post, I also tend to follow Dave Briggs’s view regarding pictures of my children on flickr, all of which are restricted to friends and family only. That said by my doing this means I should lock them away from the world either.

    It is true the internet is a great way to share with the world things that are important to you but sadly there are those that will abuse that.

    I feel it is our responsibility to consider what we should share and with who.

  18. doh just spotted my error:

    “That said by my doing this means I should lock them away from the world either.”

    should read

    “That said by my doing this doesn’t mean that I should lock them away from the world either.”

    Sorry, still a bit new to all this ….

  19. Apologies for commenting so late on this post, I’ve been meaning to join in since it was posted, but am indolent…

    I’ve had exactly the same problem twice in the past, where a stranger has favourited pictures of my daughter, and a look at their flickr stream shows nothing but pictures of young girls.

    In flickr’s defence, when I contacted them to draw their attention to these particular people, they were banned almost immediately.

    It may not be specifically ‘against the rules’ but flickr do take a pretty dim view of creepy behaviour.

    And, yes, I do mark most of my kids photos as ‘family and friends only’ these days – but mostly because they are now old enough to decide for themselves which pictures they want to share with the world.

  20. Lucy thanks, and er… how can I be so dumb as to not have thought to contact flickr, choosing instead to rant over here! Am off to do that now.

    sdcsmith – agreed and it is a shame, but there we go

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