Privacy and Geotagging on Social Media
I recently read an article about Alexa Dell. I'm sure it was a nice PR piece put together for her business venture considering most posts concerned her dating life, engagement ring size, and social diary. But I was actually focused on an incident that occurred six years ago when she was 18. She was on a private jet headed for Fiji when she posted a photo of her brother to her public instagram compromising her family's security. That photo was picked up by Rich Kids of Instagram and her father's security detail promptly shut down her social media.
I wanted to write about this topic of privacy and social media because I've seen a few things lately that have become a little concerning to me. I've had conversations with people across niche communities - dogs, lifestyle, fitness, as well as my own friend group - and I think we all need to be a little more aware of how and when we geotag, if at all. I think we also need to be comfortable advising other people when they're probably unaware of what they are doing.
For those of you who do not know, I have a dog on social media. Her following has organically grown to just under 10,000. I have no formal marketing training, I do not work in advertising or social media, and I am not a Millennial. But this post is not about how to grow your following, how to tell if someone bought their followers, or the "dos" and "don'ts" of Instagram. This is about privacy. And it's pretty serious because it does not just affect dogs.
I periodically joke, via Poppy's instagram, that she wouldn't be on the platform had it not been for Jon. But it's completely true. We met when she was about nine months old and he followed a number of dog instagram accounts. Whenever he would bring up how she was too cute to not have her own account, I would cite a host of reasons why I did not want to put, what is ultimately, myself on a public social media platform. Simply put, I didn't want my dog to get stolen and for people to see certain aspects of my life, which I keep private. I found the entire thing unnecessary.
I was fairly averse to the idea, but after about three months of "encouragement" from Jon, I finally created an account for Poppy late one night and posted a series of puppy photos. I decided it might be fun to write about our adventures together, and I could become comfortable with the idea of sharing over a public forum if I set certain parameters along with an intention.
I was fairly new to San Francisco. There had been mention of doodle meet ups and romps that were posted on instagram, my dog had a lot of energy as a puppy, and I wanted to meet other doodle owners on social media without using my personal account. I also wanted to create a single source of photos for my dog so my family and friends could follow her (me) on adventures through our new home city, and it seemed like a solid creative outlet where I could write fun little captions. I minored in creative writing and have been working on a children's book for some time so this was like a fun extension to what I already loved to do outside of work. Plus, I love to travel and go on adventures.
I created a character for Poppy and a story-telling theme. I decided she would have the voice of a "demanding doodle" who also loved people and dogs, would love to go off and explore on adventures, and also provide helpful information to her followers about dog training, ownership, care, and dog-friendly travel. If you know Poppy, I really just magnified and dramatized her existing personality. She is a demanding dog who will run your life if you let her, is inquisitive and curious (we nicknamed her "Inspector Gadget" since she'd inspect everything in a new place), is obsessed with people and loves other dogs, and loves getting in the car or on a plane ready for her next adventure (she will run to the door when my suitcase is packed and run through the airport to board a flight). But I loved and got the most enjoyment from the idea of sharing information through creative writing, research, and discovering new places. That's what kept me coming back to create interesting posts. I decided instagram would be a perfect outlet for me to do so while I remained in the background or even absent. However, I still felt uneasy about sharing even part of my world with strangers.
I decided in order to ease this anxiety and feel comfortable with a public profile, I had to create boundaries associated with privacy. But I'm shocked how many people do not. As more millennials adopt and purchase pets or have children of their own, I wonder if they're aware of the potential risks to being so open about their lives with strangers. I wonder how many don't realize they are exposing themselves or family to risk even if they don't have a pet or child.
While I have conversations with many of her followers, in real life (IRL for social media ... insert "eye roll" emoji), about geotagging and privacy I wanted to open it up to a wider audience so I asked Poppy's followers how they maintain their privacy on social media. Many of them have a dog account for the exact same reason - they love the niche community, they rarely have personal social media accounts, they're not comfortable posting themselves on social media, and they're private.
I compiled a list of rules that include mine and theirs (as they completely overlap):
- Always ask permission before posting photos (even your family, kids and friends). This is especially true for children who cannot advocate for themselves.
- Do not post photos of employees at establishments without their permission or at meet ups with other owners (plus, it's a lot more fun to imagine dogs roaming around a field unattended for a romp!)
- On personal accounts, even private, we wait to post pictures until we are home from a vacation! (This is a great one! Imagine who can rob your house if they know you aren't home! Especially if you post photos of places you live!)
- When traveling, do not tell people where your pet or child is staying, if they are not with you.
- Never geotag your home, your family's home, your friend's home, or your child's school.
- Never geotag when you are at a location. Wait hours or days until you post from that location. If you, your child or pet frequent that location - do not geotag the specific location (there is an exception of you are a business owner and are promoting it).
The above are some basic guidelines that translate to fitness instructors, lifestyle bloggers, automotive groups, dog owners, and the list goes on.
To highlight some examples, I'll use some accounts that I follow as well as my own experience. I follow one account that posts herself and child (with permission), but does not use his name. Another account I follow only shows the back of her children's heads. There are many lifestyle bloggers whose significant other does not have social media and she or he is not featured in any post. Jon knows I'm particularly neurotic about photos he posts to his public page so you will rarely see one of me on his account. On Poppy's instagram, you may notice Jon is periodically featured while I am almost completely absent. We have different comfort levels. His personal page is public, mine is not.
In terms of children, I think this one needs to be censored but it's a personal preference with varying degrees of comfort level. I do not have children but I will tell you this much - my children will never be featured on a public instagram and there will be extreme limitations to what I share on any social media. This reason is two-fold: 1) a child is innocent and I'm not comfortable putting mine on a platform without his/her consent. At a later point in the child's life, that's a discussion we can have as a family and 2) there are a lot of creepy people out there and I've read some really disturbing commentary while researching for this post about predators commenting on their children as young as two years old. If you have a private account, make sure you know everyone on that friend list before you post photos of your child and never geotag their location.
Speaking of geotagging, I love that we feature businesses and locations to both highlight our favorites and share something about who we are by where we live. But we need to be very careful so I adhere to the guidelines set above. There are so many fun geotags to use and you should have fun with that, as well. I use "Poppy's Place" a lot when we are at home and the doodle community loves "Doodleville." There are so many to pick from that if using a geotag creates an added layer of fun to your post then try some out or make your own. You can always use general locations like "San Francisco" or "New York, NY" but make sure the mileage from your location is not listed as zero. I know some people who use the neighborhood or city nearby just as another layer of precaution. If you are using instastories or snapchat, try video recording and posting it later. You'll get better posts and be present for your friends if you wait, too. And never post street signs, identifying landmarks, etc when you are home.
A caution about travel plans. I'm guilty of advertising my travel when I take Poppy but I also am very careful about people not knowing where I live so I take this risk. However, when I am not with her I will not post on her page where I am or for how long. Most of the time, you won't even know where I am as I frequently use past photos for current posts both for when I travel and when I do not. I also do not tell her followers where she goes out for daycare. This same thing should also apply for people with children.
A lot of dogs have been kidnapped for the simple purpose of gaining a reward. Some breeds are stolen more than others due to the high reward or resale value of the dog. The same is children being kidnapped or preyed upon. Be careful where you tag. Do not expose yourself to this type of breach "just for the 'gram."
I would say the same is true for yourself, particularly if you are a young woman. Do you like going to one particular club a lot? Do you leave late at night from work? I remember when I was 22 and leased my first car. I really wanted vanity plates and the woman at the dealership told me a story about a girl who was followed home from a club. The next night that man attacked her when she was leaving her home. He found her because he could remember the vanity plates. Guess who didn't get vanity plates?
As much as we want to live in a world where we are not objectified we also cannot be so naive to think bad people don't exist. You are free to post whatever you want just be safe about it. Don't expose yourself to unnecessary security risks.
You'll never see the outside of my home or Jons' in a post and I rarely show locations near or around my house. No one knows where I work and Jon very rarely has taken Poppy with him. We do this on purpose.
Not all of us have a risk level like Alexa Dell and her family. But not all of us have the security detail to protect us from people who are just as dangerous to us and our family.
And as I close, I want to write that I love my niche instagram community. I am so grateful Jon persuaded me to create a social media account for Poppy. I could never imagine or predict what would happened over the last one and a half years. Life got really weird in a good way. I have a community of online friends all over the world (some I've met in real life), my dog has modeled for local brands in SF, we have raised money for animal shelters and dog surgeries, we have helped save furry friends affected by recent natural disasters, and we have formed some incredible lifelong friendships. So I am by no means discouraging people from creating or continuing to curate a life online but I am only suggesting you do so with some parameters on privacy and precautions. It's taken some of us a little while to figure these functionalities out so I hope this does help.
I'm cataloging this post under "Travel and Adventure" as well as "Poppy's Corner" for easy reference since it relates to both topics.