10 Aug 2014

Give kids a say about posting their pics online’

It is the world’s third most switched-on nation. But young Swedes say kids should have a choice about their photos being posted online. Do they have a point?

It has given birth to one of the world’s most successful music streaming services, and has the third highest rate of internet use in the world.

So it’s no surprise that Sweden’s biggest festival, Way Out West, is also one of the most digitally focused. There are wifi hubs along with the beer tents and an app that lets you listen to artists scheduled to play, along with a whole host of sustainability credentials.

The Channel 4 News Data Baby project, which has been investigating how our digital footprints are tracked, decided to find out how these savvy festival goers feel about their privacy online, especially in light of the Edward Snowden revelations last year.

A previous Data Baby investigation found that huge amounts of personal information can be obtained online using very simple tools.

These festival-goers said they weren’t too worried about their privacy – but only because they were cautious about what they divulge online in the first place. Around 70 per cent of those polled (parents and non-parents) said they wouldn’t post pictures of their kids online, and thought that others shouldn’t either, if the child was too young to express an opinion.

“It [the Snowden leaks] didn’t change my behaviour, it was because I was quite restrictive regarding what I use the internet for, and what I post online anyway,” said Gunnar Hallneuk, 37, whose daughter is two-years-old. “It’s easier to have responsibility for what is physically in your own home.”

Hanna Madson, 25, (pictured above, bottom centre), whose daughter Ofelia is nearly one, added: “I take pictures of her all the time. But I want her to have the choice for herself [about posting it online]. It’s about her integrity.” True to form, she didn’t want her daughter’s picture used with this article.

Many of those polled highlighted a generational divide, and said that while youngsters may be more digitally literate, they are being more careful about sharing.

“I think that my generation is a little more cautious right now about putting things online,” said Frida Asterhall, 22, (see video below).

“Thirty-five [year-old] mums and dads put up baby pictures, of their little daughters and sons playing around, and you know, the integrity has been lowered.”

I take pictures of her all the time. But I want her to have the choice for herself about posting it online Hanna Madson

Even the prime minister’s personal life is considered out of bounds and Swedes know very little about his children, or even what they look like.

Annie Johansson, 27, (above, top left) has lived in both the US and Sweden and says the culture is very different – in the US she was told to be careful about what she posted.

“If I was applying for a job in Sweden, I don’t think an employer would try to look me up on Facebook because I think they’re not that interested,” she said. “But if you compare it to the United States, they’re more into what you do in your free time… the whole picture.”

Sweden and the ‘personnummer’

None of those polled by Channel 4 News said that they had changed their behaviour since the spying revelations.

Documents revealed last year by Edward Snowden showed that the Swedish government’s intelligence agency, the FRA, had been cooperating with the NSA and GCHQ since 2004, years before the parliament actually voted on it.

Sweden was also the only country to support Britain in vetoing talks between the EU and the US about government surveillance, making sure that the terms of the debate were restricted.

The revelations about Sweden’s involvement in NSA spying were met with ambivalence, if Way Out West festival-goers are anything to go by. And this seems to be reflected in the wider national picture: Sweden’s pirate party, which campaigns for stronger privacy rights, lost one of their two seats in the EU elections.

But being part of a massive database is built in to Sweden’s national DNA. Everything from getting a job, to a house, to a bank account, requires a 10-digit “personnummer” or personal identity number.

Foreigners who want to live there have to go through the process of getting one for themselves, and this makes it very easy for the state to track crucial parts of your life.

“I was not surprised about the NSA’s programme. But there is so much information out there, I’m not worried about my own being analysed,” said Ms Johansson. “I would be more nervous if it was Russia.”

Mattias Hellberg, 23, who works for a conservation charity, said he was angry about surveilance – but he also said people should take more responsibility for themselves. “The internet: it’s a public space. I don’t think we can say too much. People feel like it’s private, but it’s not.”

As with many things in Sweden, it all comes back to the notion of “lagom”, which is roughly translated as “just right” or “everything in moderation” – and that includes what you post online.