According to a reportreleased this week by security vendor AVG, more than 80 percent of children have an online presence before they're 2 years old -- and some 25 percent of kids are online in some fashion before they're even born.
Uploading prenatal sonogram photographs, tweeting pregnancy experiences, making online photo albums of children from birth, and even creating email addresses for babies -- today's parents are increasingly building digital footprints for their children prior to and from the moment they are born, AVG says.
"Our research shows that the trend is increasing for a child's digital birth to coincide with -- and in many cases, predate -- their real birth date," the report states. "A quarter of babies have sonogram photos posted online before they have even physically entered into the world."
In the U.S., 92 percent of children have an online presence by the time they are two, compared to 73 percent of children in Europe.
According to the research, the average digital birth of children happens at around six months, with one-third (33 percent) of children's photos and information posted online within weeks of being born. In the U.S. 37 percent of newborns have an online life from birth; in Australia and New Zealand the figure is 41 percent.
Almost one-quarter (23 percent) of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans to the Internet. This figure is higher in the U.S., where 34 percent have posted sonograms online. Fewer parents share sonograms of their children in France (13 percent), Italy (14 percent), and Germany (15 percent).
Seven percent of babies and toddlers have an email address created for them by their parents, and 5 percent have a social network profile.
When asked what motivates parents to post images of their babies on the Internet, more than 70 percent of all mothers surveyed said it was to share with friends and family. However, more than one-fifth (22 percent) of mothers in the U.S. said they wanted to add more content to their social network profiles, while 18 percent of U.S. mothers said they were simply following their peers.
AVG asked mothers how concerned they are (on a scale of one to five, with five being "very concerned") about the amount of online information available on their children in future years. The mothers were moderately concerned (average 3.5).
"It's shocking to think that a 30-year-old has an online footprint stretching back 10 to 15 years at most, while the vast majority of children today will have online presence by the time they are 2 years old --a presence that will continue to build throughout their whole lives," says AVG CEO J.R. Smith.
Smith urges parents to think about two things:
"First, you are creating a digital history for a human being that will follow him or her for the rest of their life. What kind of footprint do you actually want to start for your child, and what will they think about the information you've uploaded in future?
"Secondly, it reinforces the need for parents to be aware of the privacy settings they have set on their social network and other profiles. Otherwise, sharing a baby's picture and specific information may not only be shared with friends and family, but with the whole online world."
Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.