Sunday, May 01, 2005

Free baby photos: A case study in privacy, consent, expectations and sensitivity

The blog Boing Boing bills itself as a "Directory of Wonderful Things." It has a huge readership and it often has postings related to privacy. Almost a month ago, there was a posting about the "Free Photos" that parents are often offered in the maternity wards of hospitals (Boing Boing: Free baby photo trojan gets new moms to sell baby-privacy). Often the photos are not free and manytimes it looks like a thinly veiled way of collecting information to aggressively market to new parents.

It is a good case study in privacy issues. They do attempt to get consent from parents, but brand-new mothers may not be in a state to fully comprehend the consent form they are being asked to sign (if they would be inclined to read it in the first place). The providers of this service often don't do anything to bring the marketing aspect to the attention of the parents, other than being buried in the fine print of the agreement. Is is reasonably anctipated that your agreement to a photo of your kid would lead to being marketed to by third parties? (The folks at Boing Boing call this a "trojan", suggesting the service is a thinly veiled marketing delivery system.) Also, unfortunately effects can result. In the blog post, Boing Boing refers to a new mother who had recently lost her child to crib-death, only to receive "ghastly" birthday cards for the child from companies with whom she had never dealt. This must happen hundreds of times a year. I wonder if the ill feelings this would cause are over-ridden by the sales they make to parents who still have their children.

I'm not going to comment on the legality or ethics of this practice, but only suggest that it really bears thinking about.

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