Getting A ‘Digital Footprint’ For Your Kids Before They Are Born May Be Smart But It’s Too Late For Me

shutterstock_150878828__1378376862_74.134.205.46Is getting a digital footprint for your kids before they are born smart parenting or just new wave paranoia in the Internet age? I have posted my children’s photos on Facebook. And I have written extensively about them in articles, including numerous times on this very website, which according to this article on Slate may affect their chances of getting into a decent college. The author of the article, Amy Webb, discusses how her and her husband made a vow before their child was born that they would never post any photographs or personal identifying information about their daughter online. She talks about how her friend has a daughter named “Kate” and how the mother has jeopardized her daughter’s future by identifying her on the Internet:

That poses some obvious challenges for Kate’s future self. It’s hard enough to get through puberty. Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates? If Kate’s mother writes about a negative parenting experience, could that affect her ability to get into a good college? We know that admissions counselors review Facebook profiles and a host of other websites and networks in order to make their decisions.

She also explains how her and her husband have gone a different route for their own child:

Knowing what we do about how digital content and data are being cataloged, my husband and I made an important choice before our daughter was born. We decided that we would never post any photos or other personally identifying information about her online. Instead, we created a digital trust fund.


They searched the internet to see if any negative content was associated with her name before she was born. They used this in determining whether or not the name they had selected for their unborn should be changed in advance. They secured her an email address, a twitter account, a Facebook account and a URL of her name and they plan on  presenting her with these things and the accompanying passwords when she is older. They wanted to do all of this to give her a digital adulthood that’s free of bias and presumption. 

I think this all sounds pretty awesome and a smart thing for new parents to do, but it’s way too late for me. I’ve talked about my kids online. I’ve posted photographs of them using their names. I’ve written about them. I’ve basically hijacked their digital identities. I’m not as bad as some parents. I don’t have Facebook albums dedicated to photographs of them. I’m careful about what I write and I ask their permission if I use an anecdote about raising them in an article. But they don’t have E-mail addresses. They have no domain names. I never googled their names before they were born. I may need to rethink some of my digital parenting skills.

(Image: Gladskikh Tatiana/shutterstock)

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    • chickadee

      I read that article yesterday, too, and I am of two minds about it. I think it’s great that they have already prevented someone else from getting specific domains that could use their daughter’s name and thus create a profile that make their daughter appear to be the one with a bad profile (I think that sentence was too long). So as long as she/they control the name Edwina Smith-Smythe, then they control her internet persona to some extent.

      But. I also think that baby pictures and fb stories about tantrums are probably going to have zero influence on whether the girl gets into a good school or gets a job interview. It’s much more likely that teenaged Edwina could sink her own ship by posting poorly-considered rants about marginalized people or twerking videos and then have to attend Podunk U.

      • Eve Vawter

        I graduated from Podunk U!

      • chickadee

        Whoops….I mean, hey! Those Ivy League schools are way overrated!

      • ChillMama

        Oh, good grief! How about just have fun raising your child instead of trying to “maximize” and “optimize” everything!! Are you so dissatisfied with your own “outcome” in life that you think you need to invent a new way of parenting??

      • TngldBlue

        Oh yeah, this mom thinks she has broken the code of parenting. Except she’s so busy tracking and fixing the future she has completely missed that 99% of parenting is being present in your child’s life.

      • chickadee

        The woman is obsessed with maximizing her child’s potential. The child is three years old.

        I predict that the child will eventually be a long-term therapy candidate.

      • ChillMama

        Or maybe she will have a meltdown when a child whose parents didn’t chart a thing suddenly outscores her optimally produced one.

      • Emmali Lucia

        How can she, her husband, or her child enjoy life when everything she does is so analytical?

        “If I have sex with you in this exact position for 3.4 minute science says you should climax!”

        “If I feed you exactly 405 grams of cereal today science says you’ll do well for the rest of your life!”

      • chickadee

        From her articles, I would say that she enjoys very little apart from spreadsheets.

      • ChillMama

        Plus the pressure she is putting on that child! It makes me feel overwhelmed!

      • Emmali Lucia

        Have you read about the overwhelming amount of Japanese men who refuse to look for partners?

        They like, have pillow girlfriends and other weird things to replace human interaction. This is just a theory but some have said it’s because they’ve been pushed so hard to do the best (Not even their best, THE best) that when something goes wrong the rejection is more than they are willing to deal with, so they stop looking for partners…

      • Blueathena623

        Wowee. I thought I was neurotic. I feel better about myself now.

      • Marney Poland-Morris

        talk about putting the cart before the horse

      • chickadee

        If they are trying to avoid cross-contamination by someone else, then by all means protect the name’s digital footprint, if that’s what you want to do. But I totally disagreed that fb postings in infancy and childhood are going to keep the adult daughter from getting into good schools or getting a good job.

      • Mary

        Yeah, I don’t get the purpose of this either.

      • Amanda

        I think you’re right, but for a different reason. If everyone’s parents posted things and pictures etc about them from birth, then wouldn’t it be no big deal? And would you be the weird one if your parents didn’t?

      • chickadee

        Very interesting. So if the university or potential employer can’t find a thing on you, they may wonder what it is you are hiding….

      • Blueathena623

        That already is the case, at least in some areas. My previous boss (educational tech) wouldn’t call prospective employees for interviews if they didn’t have an online presence. Because if you’re a techie with no online presence, you’re either not thst much of a techie or a good techie who has a lot to hide.

    • Emmali Lucia

      I think it’s really stupid that they looked her name up in google and found that it was a “Safe” name

      Do they honestly still think it will be a “Safe” name in 16-18 years when she needs it? I mean, is her name so uncommon that there isn’t going to be another one? Because if they gave her an unusual name they’re hurting her job prospects a lot worse than a social media profile, people will literally throw away resumes from foreign, ethnic, or “Unique” names. The shorter and more Americanized the name is, the more money they will make. In fact I think you guys covered this.

      Another thing is that just 7 or 8 years ago Myspace was the coolest new thing, why are they reserving a Facebook and Twitter for her? That’s like a Freshman in high school receiving the gift of an AOL account.

      • Amanda

        Thank you, you’re so right. We got my daughter a gmail account with her name and are just putting it on pause until we think she’d want it. (we’ve got faith that google’s going to be here a while) Facebook, twitter, etc, if they even exist when she’s old enough to be on them are probably going to be the most uncool places to be.

      • Paul White

        Safe word, good. Safe name? Not possible.

      • Sundaydrive00

        I was thinking the same thing about it being all outdated in 10 years when she would start to use Facebook and email. Technology is always changing, there is a good chance that something bigger and better will come along in that time.

        I got my first phone about 10 years ago. Its crazy thinking how different that phone was compared to my phone now. I’m pretty sure I was still using dial up AOL as my internet connection, and now I have 5 different devices that can connect to the internet anytime, anywhere. Instant Messenger was all the rage in high school to talk to friends, is that even around still?

        I always think the same when I see those car commercials that boast having Suri integrated into the car system. Yeah that’s cool now, but in 5 years is that even going to be relevant? Is my car going to have useless technology that is going to hurt its resale value?

    • R Zhao

      I think a ‘safe’ name would be a common name, which I used to have until I got married. Now my name pops up in stuff so easily if I google it, which kinda sucks.

      I’m sorry, but making the kids’ accounts for them isn’t smart or awesome. It’s ridiculous. By the time your toddler is in middle school or high school, people probably won’t be using either gmail and Facebook so those accounts will be useless. Moreover, most teens and even kids are savvy enough to make their own accounts before you give them the ones you created and deemed safe. Another problem with this, you can control what you put online about your kids, but you can’t control what other people put online about them. The Internet has really become a force bigger than any of us.

      The other issue I have with Webb’s article is her need to control every aspect of her child’s life. It’s not as apparent in this piece, but I encourage you to read her piece on the data tracking she does on her daughter. I find it somewhat disturbing and certainly nothing to emulate.

      • chickadee

        She seems to think, in this interview, that children and their behavior can be quantified with numbers…

      • Emmali Lucia

        I feel like, and this is my opinion and I hope it’s not offensive, she’s a psuedo-intellectual. She likes to think she’s very smart and probably reads a ton about the stuff on the internet, but she’s never really done the full research or has actually gone to school about it.

        Because the first thing you learn in Psychology and Sociology and Anthropology is that human behaviour can’t really be quantified with numbers or controlled.

        I mean, you can try, you can attempt to shape them into model citizens, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

        Shit happens and it’s life. Just give them the best childhood that they can remember and hope for the best.

    • Armchair-ette

      I wouldn’t take advice from this mom. She is also the one who charts and graphs every single facet of her little bub’s life. I think she’s either a kook or is desperately trying to sell her book.

      • chickadee

        BOHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I just read her article about poopsheets and obsessive tracking of feedings, and I think the mother’s digital footprint may be more debilitating to her daughter’s future than her daughter’s own activities. I mean, her mom sounds like the most hovery of helicopter parents, and an employer or a school might be leery of taking on that burden.

      • Rachel Sea

        Does it have to be either/or?

      • Armchair-ette

        Too true. I wonder if this is all actually a sham.

      • Rachel Sea

        One can only hope.

      • Paul White

        Crazies can be out to scam you too!

    • Tea

      My old graphic design and coding proff just reserved the domain names of her kids and renews them every year, so that if they wanted to have a professional site when they grew up, the option would be there.

      I also feel a lot safer having a somewhat more common name, it’s part of why I didn’t take my partner’s last name. There was an Ellis Island typo, and literally every _____ in the searchable world is related to him or married in. At one point we had to wipe his old LJ account because he listed himself as being K. _____, and he wasn’t his cousin Kitty, so that only left one. Not a good way for your parents to find your “woe is me being a teenager is haaaaaaaard” ranting.

    • JD

      I started reading the article assuming I would agree with whatever she said based on the headline. But no, I think it’s weird and controlling in kind of a paranoid way.

      But maybe i just can’t relate because my name is super common (Smith). Just try to find me – muahahahhaha! And I am not very tuned into social media, though my kids have a small presence on Facebook, due to my siblings.

      That said, my kids have gmail addresses because I thought it would be convenient if all our email addresses follow the same pattern. My four year old loves emailing people “I love you” from her own account.

    • historychick79

      Meh…Adolf Hitler was a ‘safe,’ traditional German/Austrian name in the 1920′s. We can’t fix everything for our kids, we can’t prevent them from getting hurt or dealing with disappointment, or have something random happen out of their control. I usually list my son as ‘C’ on the internet because his name is less common, and I try to make sure his pictures are flattering and selective since we certainly can’t know/control where they’ll end up over the years. In 15 years, the technology could be obsolete or we could have a catastrophic event a la Walking Dead and it’s all pointless worrying after all. How does she know her daughter will appreciate and use the internet access she decided on; I remember picking my first email moniker was a pretty personal choice (and Hotmail was the prime choice at the time, see it doesn’t last forever!) If it helps this mom sleep at night, so be it, but it’s definitely not my style.

      • Eve Vawter

        wait… zombies are coming for reals?

    • Paul White

      Read the title: “Oh that’s reasonable, make sense.”
      Read the story: “WTF are they thinking?”

    • TngldBlue

      I find this mother hilarious. First of all, will any of these sites even exist in 15 years? Look at the popular sites that have come and gone since 1998. Second, they kinda shot themselves in the foot-this is the interwebz, it would take about 20 seconds for someone so inclined to figure out their daughters name and what sites are hers. Considering her mom shills her book and writes about everything they do for their precious one, I think they’ve already done put the online identity nail in that coffin. And they made it worse because now there will be people targeting those accounts for fun. I am totally on board with not posting pictures of your kids online and trying to preserve their privacy as much as possible-I was horrible at that when my kid was first born but have gotten much more savvy-but the actual way to do that is to keep them 100% offline. I mean really, the last thing in the world I’m worried about is someone setting up a nefarious domain that contains my daughters name. Geesh.

    • Rachel Sea

      I think this woman needs a medical marijuana prescription, she needs to eat some magic brownies, and she needs to chill the hell out, or the only thing she’s going to be quantifying are the number of hours of therapy it takes to undo all the neuroses with which she is fixing to burden her daughter.

    • Armchair-ette

      btw: According to Slate comments, the child’s name and picture are easily obtainable online. Not positive this is solid, reliable, Powers-that-Be-honest truth, but she’s Petra Woolf.

      So, this article is a scam. Let’s pray/hope/wish/send vibes that the other is as well.

    • Blueathena623

      Name your kid after historic figures. They will not be popping up in the search results.

    • Frankie

      Here’s a recap from the Slate comments: author is a confirmed liar. Multiple comments show Ms. Webb continued to post pictures and video, using toddler’s real name Petra E. Woolf, right up to, and in some cases after, this article went live. She had tried to scrub FB of some of the blatant pics, but didn’t spend much time on it. Reading her other work (measuring granularity and mass of Petra’s poop), and viewing observations made by others about her web presence (and considering the topic of her published book), should lead most to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with Ms. Webb. Petra dear, please change your name as soon as your are able. Or start using a nickname in grade school. A petition for emancipation should follow thereafter.

      (I found some of the info w/in 20 seconds of Googling, and subsequent posters found much more damning evidence. All links contained w/in the Slate comments)

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