A new global study has found that children under the age of two have a profound presence online, ranging from baby pictures to full-fledged profiles on social networking sites. The parents of nearly one in four children upload sonogram images while their offspring are still in the womb. By the time today's generation of babies "can use a computer it will be easy to find a digital dossier of themselves," writes J.R. Smith, CEO of AVG, the internet security firm that polled 2,200 mothers worldwide to conduct the study. Is this a dangerous trend?
What did the study find?
That 92 percent of children under two in the United States have an online presence. In Western Europe, that figure is 73 percent. On average, parents begin representing their children online when the babies are 6 months old. Wow, says Adrian Chen at ValleyWag. "Back in our day," you didn't pop up online until "you were at least old enough to walk."
What exactly are parents posting?
Photos, for the most part — 70 percent of mothers surveyed report having uploaded baby and toddler portraits. Twenty-three percent say they posted sonogram images before their kids were born (a trend that's increasing, says Smith, who uses the phrase "digital birth date" to describe the moment that a baby gains an online presence). Seven percent of parents surveyed had created an email address for their baby, while five percent had built a social-network profile for the latest member of the family.
Why are parents doing this?
For a variety of reasons: Seventy percent of moms said they wanted to share the child-rearing experience with friends and family, while 22 percent said they wanted to add content to their own social networking profile and 18 percent admitted that they were just mimicking other parents.
Should parent be doing this?
While "it's completely undertandable" that "proud parents" would want to share photos of their little ones online, they should be cautious, says Smith. "You are creating a digital history for a human being that will follow him or her for the rest of their life." Ask yourself, he says, how your children might feel about having their baby photos and other details available online, potentially for years. This trend also "reinforces the need for parents to be aware of the privacy settings they have set on their social network and other profiles."