Selling peace of mind?
As mainstream platforms have come under fire, these apps have also marketed their privacy and security features. App developers must now compete to convince users that they will best protect precious images and data, even as they work to generate revenue without selling user information or battering users with ads.
Eddie Geller, co-founder and CEO of Tinybeans, and Ed Botterill, who co-founded Lifecake, both say more users are requesting information about app policies.
Private sharing apps are far from perfect. All five mentioned above rely on Amazon Web Services for hosting for instance, essentially requiring customers to trade one tech giant for another. Even with Amazon’s security services, no platform is hack-proof. Companies can also update privacy policies at any time, meaning users should never get complacent with the status quo.
None of these platforms can compete with Facebook’s financial model either. Without selling user data, they monetise in other ways. Some charge for premium features like unlimited storage, HD images and ad removal. Some make small compromises: Tinybeans targets ads to users based on private information (never shared with third parties), while Lifecake collects data on user device preferences for Canon.
Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at McAfee, says families are right to be concerned about where they share images. If you aren’t careful about privacy settings on Facebook (which can be confusing for many, especially as settings default to high visibility), images from the first day of school, for example, could reveal a child’s face, name, school and geotagged location. If cybercriminals can obtain a child’s social security number, he or she could join one million others who were victims of child identity theft in the U.S. in 2017.
Stacey Steinberg, professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and a leading expert on sharenting, also raises concerns about lawful data collection by companies and governments. “The more we learn about the way information is gathered online through data mining,” she says, “the more we know that when parents choose to share about their kids online, that information could end up in dangerous hands.”
Consider, for instance, the wave of high-profile security breaches in the last year hitting companies such as airline, British Airways, making clear that even legal, consented data sharing can compromise users’ information and expose them to identity theft … and these are just the hacks we know about.
Scott Miller, a father of one who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, says reports of hacks and data leaks on social media platforms have influenced his choices. “They’ll say it’s not hackable, we fixed this, and then six months later they’ll be hacked again,” he says. After researching available alternatives, Miller joined Tinybeans in 2018, deciding to trust its “promise” to protect families. While he continues to use Facebook for work and news, he rarely shares personal posts there.
Younger parents can be particularly protective. Despite her position as a parenting influencer, Katie Wells, founder and CEO of Wellness Mama, won’t share images of her children. It’s natural to assume younger parents are more active on social media, but Wells, 32, says they also take greater precautions. They’re generally more experienced with social media’s negative effects and can sympathise with a child’s position. 23snaps user Meghan Kangas, 30, says parents should make decisions about social media sharing for their children until they are old enough to make safe choices themselves.