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Newspaper Column

PCPD in Media

"Responsible 'Sharenting' for Protecting Children’s Digital Privacy" – Privacy Commissioner’s article contribution at Hong Kong Lawyer (Nov 2023)

Social media has made it easier than ever for parents to share milestones and precious moments from their children’s lives with their friends and family. Such an act is often referred to as “sharenting” (a portmanteau of “sharing” and “parenting”). While the phenomenon is nothing new, its growing popularity raises privacy concerns that should not be overlooked. As a child comes of age, it is worth considering how sharenting may shape the child’s future digital identity and affect the child’s privacy.

Pitfalls of Sharenting
Parents may unintentionally compromise their children’s security by divulging their children’s personal data or identity via online posts. It is therefore unsurprising that a global bank estimated that 7.4 million cases of identity fraud per year worldwide would be linked to sharenting by 2030. Additionally, photos or videos posted on social media platforms may end up on sites used for sharing paedophilic or pornographic content. In Australia, up to 50% of the materials shared on such websites could be traced back to innocent photos originally posted on social media or family blogs. As there is no “delete” button in the digital world, it is crucial for parents to exercise caution and be mindful of what they share online so as not to jeopardise their children’s privacy and security, now or in the future.

The potential impacts of oversharing children’s daily lives online may also encompass long-term consequences affecting their education or even work prospects. A survey conducted in June 2023 by a recruitment company revealed that 74% of hiring managers admitted that they would use social media to screen candidates, with 85% indicating that they might disqualify candidates based on information obtained online. Similarly, foreign university admissions officers have been reported to look into candidates’ social media profiles and other digital footprints when reviewing applications. Therefore, the potential impacts of sharenting on children’s future career development and education prospects should not be underestimated.

In recent years, the rise of sharenting has led to legal battles within families. In 2016, an 18-year-old Austrian girl sued her parents for posting almost 500 pictures from her childhood on social media without her consent. In 2020, a grandmother who refused to delete photos of her grandchildren upon their mother’s request was found by a Dutch court to have violated the General Data Protection Regulation, which prohibits the processing of children’s personal data without parental consent. The Court found that the exemption of “processing personal data…in the course of a purely personal or household activity” did not apply, as the photos posted on the grandmother’s social media account were reportedly made public and thus available to a broad audience.

Navigating Sharenting – Dos and Don’ts
To encourage parents to think twice before publishing any posts about their children online, my office recently published a pamphlet entitled “Sharenting Dos and Don’ts”, which provides some helpful tips for parents, including the following:


  • Beware of the details of disclosure.
  • Communicate. Seek your child’s consent.
  • Double-check your privacy settings.
  • Think about the future. 
  • Don’t overlook your children’s privacy.
  • Don’t live for the “likes”.
  • Don’t overshare.
  • Don’t post photos of other children without permission from their parents.

We believe that all children deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and care. Their privacy and best interests should be the first and paramount consideration for parents. Above all, to show respect for the child, it is crucial to seek their views before posting any materials relating to them. Engaging children in discussions about sharenting not only promotes effective communication between parents and their children but also helps them develop an understanding of the importance of safeguarding their own personal data in the digital realm.

Striking a Balance
We live in an ever-evolving digital era, with novel technologies and immersive sharing platforms being continually rolled out. As parents, we have a responsibility to navigate this complex digital landscape with caution. While we fully understand the joy of sharenting, we urge other parents to consider the long term consequences of their behaviours online when cocreating a shared digital presence with their children. Ultimately, at the heart of it all lies a reminder that drawing a line is important, namely striking a balance between sharing content online and safeguarding your child’s digital privacy.