I've never met you, but I know your children’s names, where they live and which school they go to. I also know where your children like to hang out, what their favourite activities are and which foods they love or hate. I know your partner’s name, where you both work and when each of you travel for business. I know the make and model of your car, whether your children buckle up and which mall you take them to at the weekend.
How did I get all this information? You told me. All I had to do was look through your social media profiles and piece together the clues.
You are not alone. A recent survey by the Kaspersky Lab found that 83 per cent of UAE residents share personal information online. This includes photos and videos of our children, as well other sensitive information such as credit card numbers and passport details.
People can use this information to steal our identity, hack our accounts, coax our children into their cars or rob our homes.
Sharing information poses some less obvious threats, too.
The main issue is that we relinquish control over our data when we share it online. We lose exclusive rights to our images and comments when we post them on social media. Worse – deleting our profiles is not enough to reverse this.
Our data is immortalised by archival websites and anyone can save a copy of our content.
It is one thing to give away our own information, but we are also leaving our children's digital footprint.
This prevents them from living “virtually” freely.
As a result, every bad decision on our part can come back to haunt them when, say, they are applying for university, meeting new people or entering the job market. The past will never be the past for them; it will always be indexed and searchable.
It is important to note that we do not know the full implications of digital sharing.
Many parents were introduced to social media as adults. Therefore, their childhood memories are stored in physical photo albums, unless they made a conscious decision to digitise them themselves. This is no longer the case.
The current generation is on social media from an early age. Every developmental milestone (before and after they are born) is logged online for the world to see. We will not know the true costs of this until our children reach adulthood. By then, it might be too late.
We need to be careful in the meantime. I balance my desire to connect and share my experiences with my family’s privacy. I do this by asking myself if my family would be happy for anyone and everyone to see the content, today and in 50 years' time. I only share if I think that is the case.
I also keep my children’s faces off social media. This was a family decision. You may choose otherwise and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are fully aware of the consequences. I personally do not want to sign away their images without their consent. I want them to have some privacy as I had as a child in the 1990s.
My children will have the chance to reverse my choice when they are old enough to decide for themselves. At that point, they can show the world how cute they were as babies. Until then, I am going to treasure the photos privately.
Dr Sarah Rasmi is a social psychologist and professor at United Arab Emirates University. She specialises in parenting, families, and well-being
On Twitter @DrSarahRasmi