In Privacy

Most schools are still using generalised photo consent forms. In the wake of Facebook recent privacy breaches, that’s a big problem. Let me explain why and outline three steps schools can take to safeguard student privacy, today.


If you’re an educator or parent you already know the standard photo consent form drill. The form appears perhaps once a year, or worse, just during enrolment. It may even manage to miraculously make its way through the squashed bananas at the bottom of the school bag to the kitchen table. The terms of consent are generalised and use catch-all language like, “permission to publish photos in the public domain”.

Parents trust the school, and so they sign. Yet, at the same time, the tide is changing. A recent survey by Reach Out showed Australian parents are more worried about their children using social media and technology than drugs, alcohol and smoking.

Using such a general form to collect parent consent means a school can now share those photos with the wider community. They may use those images to advertise on Facebook, online and print media. This sounds innocent enough, but as the unravelling Cambridge Analytica revelations show, the pace and scale of digitization have dramatically changed the rules and raised the stakes of privacy.

Today, photos taken by schools of their students will join the approximately 657 billion photos that are posted online each year. The majority of these will appear on social media – where they can be endlessly duplicated, seen and used by anyone.

With publicly available facial recognition technology, and without your knowledge, companies like Cambridge Analytica or Facebook can quickly identify students, connect their image to their associated personal data points, and build a deeper profile – so detailed in fact, that they can not only map a student’s commercial tastes, they can even predict their sexual preference.

Cyberbullies can find and manipulate the images to bully kids outside school hours. Have you heard of “Finstas”? A growing phenomenon where school bullies are using Instagram to harass their victims. Could parents be inadvertently enabling cyberbullying by giving carte-blanche permission to schools to share a student’s photo on social media accounts like Instagram? Perhaps a discussion for another blog…

Worse still, child abusers can use these photos as the basis for their sordid fantasies. That should greatly concern both educators and parents.




The main issue with schools handing out a general or bundled consent form each year is they are not giving parents the opportunity to voluntarily opt out of certain uses of photos or videos.

Leading schools are starting to take action. The National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia are working towards meeting the new privacy regulations with the Privacy Compliance Manual. But many schools are lagging behind and failing to give parents adequate choices over how photos and videos are used and distributed.

The good news is there’s an easy fix. I’ve sought advice from privacy experts on this matter and below is a three-step checklist they have shared which schools can review when crafting their parent media usage consent forms:


Media consent use – ask often: These consents inform you how and when the school can use, share, publish and sell student images and videos. Ensure your school is aware of the changing privacy expectations of students and their parents by updating media use consents regularly. A good time to do this is when students advance to the next year/level.

Do not bundle: Avoid bundled consents as they undermine the voluntary nature of consent. A consent with many layers (but without context) does not consider the varying privacy expectations of school families. Have different forms or documents to ask consent for various kinds of collections, uses or disclosure of personal information. For example, specific consent should be sought when a student’s photo is being intended for public forum (e.g. TV or social media). Rather than ask the question ‘do we have your consent to publish?’ ask ‘do we have your consent to publish in the newspaper? Social media? Etc. – this gives parents an opportunity to say yes to the newspaper and no to social media for example.

Always ask, never assume: There will be times when a school proposes to share or publish a student’s personal information in a way that might be of concern to some students and their families (i.e. specific context). This is often the case when sharing details and images of students via social media. Even where media use consents are up to date, there is value in double-checking before making personal information visible to the world at large.


Is your school still using a bundled consent form to get parent permission to use your son/daughter’s photo or video? If interested in discussing further, please feel free to reach out to me here on LinkedIn. I am the CEO of pixevety, a unique school photo management platform with privacy and child protection at its core.

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