At least once or twice a year we take time out to post a reminder for all of our members encouraging you all to follow some basic internet safety tips - on this site and throughout the 'net. Some of this may be familiar to those that have been onsite for some time but we do hope that everyone does take a few minutes to read through as a refresher as well as gain updated information.
We at Pregnancy.org are extremely fortunate to enjoy such a supportive community. Together we share in the journeys of those TTC, thrill with the birth of every new baby, and offer cheers for the mom whose toddler finally went poop in the potty! Along the way, of course we also share in one another's sorrows, offer encouragement to those that are going through a difficult time, either in the work, illness, relationships, parenting, or simply struggling. We find hugs offered freely and many of our members have discovered some true friends.
While we in no way wish to discourage this type of community (in fact it is our goal), at the same time we do wish to offer some basic internet safety tips for you to consider:
- Never, under any circumstance, should you post your (or someone else's) personal contact information online. This includes full names, mailing addresses, & phone numbers or where you will be delivering. Please note that if this does mistakenly occur on the boards that hosts or site assistants are allowed to edit out the information immediately. You are, of course, free to choose to give this information privately - such as signing up to participate in gift exchanges, secret sisters, birth buddies, etc.
[INDENT]Some common examples that we notice onsite include posting unedited ultrasound pictures (complete with full name, doctor's name, and hospital); linking to baby's hospital page (again, giving full name, location); realtor and/or satellite images of your home (location); unedited birth announcements, shower / birthday invitations; and more.
- Just as in "real life", use caution about those you do share your personal contact info with privately.
- Review your profile & signature for information that you may not wish to share with strangers. Examples, full names, city & state combinations, tickers indicating when you are going to be out of town, etc. Offsite, take a close look at your personal webpages - such as MySpace & Facebook where a GREAT deal of personal information is often available. Be certain that you either have your page private and do personally know each person having access to these areas or - or do not post/share things there that you would not share with any stranger that may access. Recent studies have shown just how many on Facebook for instance, have a habit of adding friends, and then friends' friends, and so forth until they honestly have no clue who all may be viewing their personal data they have posted there.
- Practice safety when sharing family photos online - particularly of children. Unfortunately, in today's world, we all should remain aware that there are those that may view any particular image in a way far from that which it was intended. This may incl. your pregnant belly shots; birthing photos; an innocent child splashing in the tub to quietly sleeping in bed.
[INDENT]Please do know that Pregnancy.org does have a policy of removing any images shared publicly of our members and/or their children either nude or showing their "private parts" with a notification to the member. This is not because the photos are in any way offensive.
Our recommendation is that you ARE free to take these type (nudes/partial nudity) of photos and share them -- privately... ONLY with those that you know personally (family, close friends.) If you elect to show them on our site you may do so via private message or email OFFSITE. WE believe each and every child is worth this effort. By no means does this offer complete protection but certainly it does discourage those that were considered among the *worse offenders* by those that classify.
Every one of us in admin has children and we believe that pregnancy and birth is a beautiful experience. We have this site because of our own love and passion for our own families... and for yours! We LOVE seeing your little ones... and watching them thrive and grow. It is because we consider each of you and, most especially your children as they should be -- precious, innocent, and worthy of our protection that we created and implement this policy... as recommended by those responsible for dealing with investigations regarding child and internet safety whom have seen far, far worse.
For all other types of family/child photos - our recommendation is to simply be discriminating when doing so online as you would with strangers you meet. Use first names only. Be aware of backgrounds (school names, local landmarks, street names/house numbers) that may be more identifying than you would prefer. Be certain to watermark any images your post online prominently, (in a main portion of the photo), to prohibit it from being cropped and used by someone else. If you need instructions on how to do this, drop us a note. Certainly we do not believe you must stop sharing your cute family photos online any more than you would stop taking your child out in public and instead keeping them locked in your home with all the curtains drawn. Following these suggestions will allow you to enjoy sharing photos with your friends and family - including all of us here at Pregnancy.org! We love watching your families grow!
- Private Messages/Emails: Again, use common sense when responding to these (whether onsite or off.) On Pregnancy.org, we do enjoy an open community. Members throughout the site may send notes of encouragement, support, comments, or suggestions to those that they may not necessarily *know* on a particular birth board. This remains a valuable asset of our community as through this interaction we benefit from others "been there, done that" experiences. If you have any question of whether a member is "legitimate" or not, you are able to check their profile easily enough.
[INDENT]Obviously though, common sense should be practiced within these as well. If you do not recognize a person as a regular member and in looking at their profile note that they have zero posts associated with their account - then you may want to be more cautious in opting to respond. At any time if someone that fits this type of profile does contact you -- advising you to contact them offsite (via email/IM or other means) take a moment and report that user to any host or member of Admin onsite, retaining the note received, and not responding. We especially recommend that you avoid and report any solicitations received via this manner -- whether for your personal information, email addresses, phone numbers, work location, photos of your family, or any other information that you consider private. This does not mean that all doing so have ill intentions, but again - practice internet safety and err on the side of caution instead.
- Instant Messaging (IM): Due to the increased number of spammers hitting IM's we *recommend* that you no longer post your Instant Messager information within your profile at Pregnancy.org or elsewhere online. Those opting to do here should recognize that this information is available to members and non-members alike. We additionally recommend that you change your security settings on your IM (whether MSN, AOL, yahoo, etc.) -- to accept messages only from those on your *buddylist*. Don't accept requests to add new users. (You can add friends yourself.) Much of the spam received include malicious spyware/viruses within the links/files they send.
[INDENT]Use caution in choosing those that you add to your IM list. If you want to confirm that it is someone that is TRULY from Pregnancy.org -- pm them onsite (or find a way to contact them privately if offsite via another means.) This eliminates anyone from claiming to be someone that they are not and you will have a real record of those that you wish to communicate with. You can then add that person to your memberlist (and at the same time let them know your IM username.)
- When meeting online friends (from anywhere!) for the first time (or more), make arrangements to meet in a public setting. Take along a friend or relative if possible. If not, then be certain to let others know where you are going, what time you are expected to arrive back home. Carry a cell phone if possible.
[INDENT]Always go in your own vehicle until you know the other person well.
- Internet Shopping: Increasingly, more and more individuals are turning to the internet for their purchases as a matter of convenience as well as to hunt for the best bargains. With many companies now offering free shipping certainly the temptation is there! If you do choose to shop online, be certain to look for a "lock" icon in your browser status and/or a secure URL which begins with https:// (S=secure) before entering your financial/personal information. Even with these safety tips, we additionally recommend that if you are not familiar with the company that you do research before ordering.
- Phishing/Solicitations of Account Information: Have you ever received an email (or phone call for that matter!) with a message similar to this?:
“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised,
please click the link below and confirm your identity.”
This practice is known as "phishing" -- also known as soliciting your personal and/or financial information and may be used for the purpose of identity theft. Examples of phishing tend to mimic banking or credit card institutions; internet service provider; or online payment companies you may use for bills. (For the record, they are not certain you even have these accounts but are sending these out by the hundreds in hopes that *someone* that receives does and will respond with the information requested. NEVER click these links or give information out over the phone. Legitimate companies will not ask for your password and already knows your account information. If you DO have a question and want to be certain that your account / identity has not been compromised - go directly to the source (via opening a separate window and going directly to the company's website or hanging up and calling their customer service number.) Due to this problem increasing, most companies now have instructions on how to report or forward these type of scams.
- Use antivirus and anti-spyware programs on your computer in addition to a firewall. Be certain to keep these updated along with your browser and operating system to keep things secured as possible.
- Protect your passwords! Choose one with a combination of letters, numbers, and/or symbols. Never share your password - over the phone, email, etc. with others. Change your password regularly (recommendation by experts is to do so every three months.) Do not use the same password everywhere.
- Back up your important files. No matter how careful you may be, things happen whether caused by a virus, spyware, or having a computer failure for unknown reasons. Save yourself the headaches (not to mention the heartaches!) of losing those items from your computer that are valuable for you.
- Trust your instincts - if something doesn't seem right then it may not be. Know that we are willing to help out when we can but of course cannot verify each and every member's life story, hence making private boards rather futile.
*whew* This is rather lengthy to have waded through but hopefully worth the read.
Please understand that this does not mean that you should become overly paranoid or not enjoy sharing your family's photos, participate in online showers/gift exchanges, etc., or posting online. Think of this as being akin to how you would act with people that are within your own hometown or neighborhood - perhaps other parents that you meet in a local playgroup or sports teams. Of course in those places, and many more -- from the mall to the local grocery store you meet & interact with strangers that eventually become acquaintences & a few even friends. As stated earlier, most of us would find that it is not healthy (or practical) to lock ourselves away in our homes with zero interaction with the outside world.
I've now been involved in online communities now for over 12 years and have been blessed to develop many wonderful friendships - including with many of you! I've witnessed many of our boards enjoy the fun of gift/card exchanges, been amused by the *travels* of board mascots, and loved the photos of those that have been fortunate to meet in real life -- either with their families or as a board reunion! The board reunions have all been arranged similar to a convention - held in places such as Las Vegas, Dallas, New York City, and Orlando, FL. All, thus far, have been great success with everyone looking forward to the next year's. At some point we hope to be able to arrange our own Pregnancy.org convention! Who knows?
Bottom line - stay safe, use caution -- but have fun and reap the MANY benefits that the internet does have to offer!
With these tips in mind we'll continue to enjoy one of the best online parenting communities around.
Please feel free to contact me or another member of our Admin team anytime if you have questions or concerns.