Striking the delicate balance between photo privacy and community engagement

An old school question popped up on my radar again: “Is it ok for schools to collect photo consent only at enrolment (or enrollment for my U.S. friends)?”. Ten years…...
June 8, 2023
by pixevety

An old school question popped up on my radar again: “Is it ok for schools to collect photo consent only at enrolment (or enrollment for my U.S. friends)?”.

Ten years on from the first time I received this question, my advice remains the same – if you do it right the first time, the rest falls into place.

What do I mean by do it right? Make sure consent is valid: Are you collecting photo consent that is valid in the eyes of law?

Consent to be valid must be specific (not bundled with other consent), provided voluntarily, is informed, and kept up to date to ensure it caters to changing circumstances occurring year-on-year. A student’s life in kindergarten will be vastly different to their life in primary or senior years.

Schools continue to use social media as a main way to engage with their communities.

Schools continue to use social media channels excessively to promote their school activities. Research has estimated that schools publish around 4.9 million posts which include identifiable images of students and that approximately 726,000 of these posts also include students’ first and last names and their approximate location.  This means personal student data is being shared by schools on social media every day – a major leak of private data.

A photo is personal information, and yes, today most people have already had at least one photo published on a channel like Facebook, either posted by themselves or by someone they know. But the number of people who can now see these photo has exploded due to sharing technology. Add to this the fact that a child’s face is likely to be shared online as soon as they are born, the consistent trend in oversharing children’s photos online through “Sharenting” (and the ramifications of that), and now, AI technology.

Every student photo shared online by a school without consent is giving away a piece of their digital identity and privacy. It is essential that schools step-up and support students and their families to protect their right to privacy at school.

I am not saying schools should stop sharing. Sharing photos is a wonderful way to connect and engage with audiences. What I am saying is be smarter about it: make sure you have checked you have the right to share before sharing and explore more private ways to share.

And today there are so many other ways for schools to engage with their communities without giving away precious member data to third parties, social media, or big tech. For example, schools can create their own portals where they can privately display their media to invited members of their community and allow staff to share more safely using embedded image links that don’t give away the image or its associated data. These links can then be cut at any time, so schools maintain complete control over ownership and sharing.

Change is coming.

There will always be schools who believe the benefits of marketing and promoting on social media outweighs student risk. In an article I wrote in 2022 (3 Myths of Photo Consent) I felt many schools continued to capture photo consent only at enrolment because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on getting good marketing content, as well as a misguided belief they were making life easier for parents.

But when half of the pictures shared by child abusers are found to be initially posted on social media and more efforts are underway from Governments to strengthen child data protection laws and ban kid access to social media, these attitudes will change.

The fact is parents now seek greater control over their children’s photos and identity online, and schools that are not catering to these needs will find it difficult to build trust with their family communities.

Schools that ask parents on a regular basis how they would like the school to use their child’s photos before publishing to ensure school staff handle photos appropriately and respectfully based on the consent wishes of each child will become the most trusted institutions.

Did you know…

That a school on average each year takes and stores around 50,000 photos and videos of student daily life, each being handled by staff who take 30+ steps to manage before sharing (that is, if they don’t have the required technology in place to support them). Where do these images go? Who has access to them? Where are they stored? Has consent been applied? What is your school doing with them?

If your school only collects photo consent once in a student’s time at school, bundles it with other all-encompassing consents (i.e., medical forms), or does not ask specific enough questions about how photos could be used across the entire school (inside and out), it will be next to impossible for that school to manage its school media effectively to reduce risk.

With privacy data laws strengthening around the world, a school must act now to:

  • Clearly articulate to its parent community the primary intention, specificity, and purpose it has for the use of student photos inside (where ‘do not publish’ kids need greatest protection) and outside (where photos are being made public for anyone to see) of the school so parents can make the best-informed decision for their child.
  • Parents must be able to change their student photo consent at any time, as required, so schools can adapt to changes that may occur; and
  • Photo consent collection must be voluntary not coercive in anyway i.e., if you don’t give us consent to use your child’s photos they cannot enrol).

Thank you for reading this article. If you would like to find out more about photo consent at school or beyond, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us here.

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