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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Do babyblogs violate children's privacy?
DOT.LIFE - where technology meets life, every Monday
By Giles Turnbull

It is easier than ever before to post family snaps online, and an ideal way for grandparents and friends to stay in touch. But is it fair on the children involved?

Children playing on a beach
An innocent snap, but not to all?
With the rise of weblogs and public journals, some of today's children are having their young lives publicly documented in a way that few other children have ever experienced.

So-called babyblogs have sprung up on the web detailing every last moment of a child's life, from the minute it's born. For friends and family far away, sites like these can be a superb way of keeping in touch.

But if, in the future, a prospective partner, friend or employer should type the child's name into Google, will they appreciate having so much of their childhood documented for all to read?

And what of the remote possibility that a paedophile will find the photos, and re-use them in unspeakable ways? It's enough to make any parent want to switch the computer off.

Family far away

Bev H - not her real name - is a web developer who gave up fulltime work to look after her one-year-old daughter, Anna.

After Anna was born, Bev and her husband used their technical skills to put dozens of pictures on the web, so that family in the United States could see their new relative.

Parents and their newborn on a maternity ward
When you care but can't be there...
"There's a lot of initial enthusiasm from first-time parents about putting their new babies on the web, but it seems to wane after the first year or so," Bev says.

"Over the years the majority of parent-run sites are likely to disappear, to be replaced with the children's' own personal web sites. So Google humiliation caused by baby sites probably won't be rife."

Bev says that parents should be able to post pictures of their children online without feeling guilty, and that in many cases the children will be interested to know the course of their early childhood.

"If it's responsibly done, I don't think parental publishing will curse our kids. At some point in later life, they'll probably find it fascinating to know not just what they were up to, but how their parents felt about that stuff at the time that it was all happening."

Paranoid or realistic?

Bev still maintains a website on her daughter, and posts new photos on it once a week. But she keeps a very close eye on it, monitoring incoming traffic and ensuring that the URL is not linked to by any other webpage, and is very hard to guess. Only family and friends are told about it.

"That's pretty simple, and so far it's worked fine. It works for me because I don't want to show off my child to the world at large, I just want to share her with a select group."

I didn't want to include something that might show the name of her school, or say which city we live in
Concerned parent Gary J
Gary J has a different view. He recently removed all trace of his daughter's website.

"I was worried about giving too much away," he says. "I didn't want to inadvertently include something that might show the name of her school, and I didn't even want to say which city we live in."

He wonders if this is paranoia or a sign of the times. "Sadly, I think it is more of the latter, and it feels like I've had the right to share my daughter's life and achievements with family and friends far away taken from me."

According to the children's welfare charity, NCH Action for Children, there's no harm in publishing photos of a child on the net, as long as parents consider a few precautions first.

John Carr, NCH's internet advisor, says: "It is a modern dilemma, and one that no-one thought about as little as 10 years ago. There are guys who collect catalogues advertising children's clothes, and they use images from there. So this has been going on for a long time, long before in the internet came along."

The charity advises parents to take sensible precautions, such as having an unobtrusive site which doesn't attract the attention of search engines.

"If people don't give out the address of their website to anyone except friends and family, they shouldn't have any problems."

Eye of the beholder

Fears about inappropriate use of child photographs have caused upset before.

Tierney Gearon at the Saatchi Gallery in 2001
Indecent? Tierney Gearon's photos
Earlier this year, artist Betsy Schneider was forced to close an exhibition of photos of her five-year-old daughter at east London's Spitz, after gallery owners called in police officers for advice.

And three years ago, a mother's photos of her children again raised the question of indecency when US photographer Tierney Gearon exhibited works at the Saatchi Gallery.

At issue was not that the children were in various stages of undress - it's a staple, after all, of intimate family portraiture. It was that the images could be seen by those outside the family group. Just as they can be online.

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