Unforeseen horrors

Just when I’d got back on the writing wagon; feeling excited about my New Year’s Resolution to post more frequently… I hit upon a stumbling block that may well be impossible to recover from. All of a sudden my passion for writing has been swallowed up by something far, far, more serious, and I am at a loss what my next move should be.

After writing Unhidden Identity back at the start of November, I have harboured a vague, yet niggling, concern that perhaps I had tempted fate by being blasé about the dangers of the internet. The reason for this initial nonchalance probably rested on the following factors:

I don’t consider myself wealthy enough to be a likely victim of identity theft; if anyone hacked into my bank account they would be bitterly disappointed at what they would find.

Nor do I consider myself pretty or intriguing enough to be stalked; though a friend jokingly warned that I might share Whitney Houston’s fate in The Bodyguard. Not something I’d be too distressed by to be honest if the cautionary measure is to have Kevin Costner follow me around all day.

But I think the basis of my lack of concern is probably because I know of no one who has suffered from the internet, other than wasting away too much time on Facebook. Sure; I’ve been told that putting personal details on the web can be dangerous…but I have never heard of it occurring; so have fallen into the classic case of thinking ‘it won’t happen to me’.

When I set up this blog I thought long and hard about whether to reveal our real names. Considering I had chosen to share funny photos of Sam to enhance my otherwise boring ramblings, I decided just our first names would do no additional harm. It has saved me from referring to Sam as ‘Squigglebum’ or some other such name in an attempt to sound cute yet original. I have refrained from using our surname, and have been as guarded as I can about where we live.

But; except for an invasion of his privacy; I have not been able to come up with any risk that I am putting Sam in by writing this blog. I now realise how horribly mistaken and naïve I have been.

In order to explain to non-bloggers what has happened, I am going to have to go off subject for a bit: forgive me if this sounds insensitive to the seriousness of the situation I have landed both of us in.

On WordPress, on what is known as the Dashboard, you are able to view your stats to see how well your blog is being received. I can also see the specific search terms used by unknown people that have subsequently redirected them to my site. I get a great deal of pleasure out of perusing this list; as they are often very random, tenuous links; and I can imagine the searcher’s frustration at finding themselves at my blog. Here are the ones listed from this last week:

  • ‘mummybigbum at wordpress’ – there is no question as to whether this person was indeed looking for my blog: hooray, someone is interested! (If it was you though, please sign up for email notifications as it’ll make me feel more popular!)
  • ‘big bum’ – possibly someone looking for me, or possibly just someone sharing my affliction
  • ‘huge bum’ – I must admit I took a little offense from this
  • ‘facebook stalking’ – hello fellow compadre in obsessive behaviour!
  • ‘who is stalking you on facebook’ – not something I’ve ever been bigheaded enough to presume happens to me
  • ‘if I accidentally liked something on facebook and unlike it will the person get a notification’ – this was worthy of a big guffaw (see my Facebook Stalking post)
  • ‘man out of chicken run’ – I used a Chicken Run image in an earlier post
  • ‘oyuncak mutfak’ – which I believe means ‘toy kitchen’ in Turkish, I can’t figure out any connection to this blog
  • ‘rosacea promis’ – I have rubbish skin that flushes really easily; with Rosacea being the suspected cause
  • ‘rosacea 19 year old female’ – yay it is not just restricted to elderly people; I am not a freak after all!
  • ‘acne girl’ – now that is just pure unkind. I am Acne Girl with a Huge Bum. Cheers Google.
  • *EDIT* These are the most recent ones: ‘wet mummy’, ‘burning skin ice cube’, ‘bigbumold man(my favorite nude dad)free video’,’bored 14 year old girl’, ‘does papular eczema ever go away?’ –  Shows how varied the people are who come to my site.

So those are the sorts of things I have become accustomed to finding under ‘Search Terms’ – a list of random, sometimes somewhat amusing terms.

But the smile has been wiped off my face, and I know that if I continue this blog I will feel a huge sense of trepidation each time I enter the Dashboard. Never ever did I imagine what I would be reading there on Friday night:

Actually I daren’t even write it in case it links this blog more closely to the disgusting, heartbreaking filth that the searcher intended to find. I am in tears again now; not just for what it means to Sam, but for what it means for children in general. Someone; some sick, sick individual; clicked on my blog hoping to see images of a toddler in the nude.

A paedophile has seen photos of my Sam.

The moment I first saw it I began physically retching. Two days on, and tears are never far from the surface. My hands have developed a constant shake.

My baby; my lovely, sweet, innocent little child, who knows nothing of the evils of this world…has been viewed by a paedophile.

It is truly horrific to imagine; yet I am unable to get it out of my head. I have no words to describe the revulsion I feel: you are supposed to be able to write at your best on subjects that are close to your heart…but any attempt at describing this horrendous discovery would fall so far short of expressing my feelings; that to attempt to do so would detract from the horror of the situation.

I have just about recovered from the shock of it and am now left with what remains; disgust, fear, and a dead weight in the pit of my stomach.

I am glad that I have given myself time to think before carrying out the natural reaction of deleting this entire blog. But that thinking time has not provided me with the wisdom of what course to take.

A friend tried to reassure me that the paedophile wouldn’t have lingered long; my blog certainly does not provide the material he was after. But the fact remains that he did see photographs of my little boy; and that upsets me more than I can say. When becoming a parent you make an unspoken vow to protect your child no matter what. The crushing guilt of having put Sam in this position is enough to make me struggle to breathe.

On the other hand, it can’t be said that I have threatened his physical safety: I am fairly confident I haven’t yet let enough details slip about our whereabouts. This didn’t stop me, however, from checking on Sam obsessively for the past two nights. I have only once left the house/garden; and we stuck to very public areas. And I am also extra clingy to the poor boy.

My mum friend, whom I respect and trust to the ends of this earth, has no doubt in her mind that I should make all photos and information about Sam vanish from the web. I know that many other mothers would take the same stance. I just can’t decide whether or not I am one of them.

Another friend is insisting that the chances of this blog coming up in a search such as that are fairly non-existent. We were just extremely unlucky and it is unlikely to happen again. But should I really be taking that risk? What would that say about me as a mother?

I know what my gut is telling me to do, but a very selfish part of my brain is adamant I should carry on as before. It may sound ridiculous, but even though I don’t post as often as others do, this blog has become a hugely important part of my life. It has opened up a whole new world to me. I never before realised how much I miss writing; how much I loath the fact I have left my brain to fester for the past two (or arguably four) years. I have received such kind praise and support for this blog and it has done wonders for my self confidence. Not only that, but it has created ideas for how I want my future to pan out.

I do not usually ask for comments, but if you have the time, please let me know your thoughts. The options I can think of are as follows:

  1. Delete this blog and stop blogging entirely
  2. Delete this blog and restart one without photos or names
  3. Continue with this blog but delete all past photos and do not upload any more
  4. Continue as if nothing has happened, with increased caution as to providing personal information

In the meantime, I have requested that this blog is not listed as a search result; but apparently search engines do not have to comply. Please can a more experienced blogger/tech savvy person let me know of anything I can do to further increase security?

Thank you for reading; I’d really appreciate your advice.

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29 Comments

  1. I would keep an eye on the “referers” box on stats and see if anything strange pops up repeatedly. I think you should delete all of your son’s photos if you are going to keep this same blog (since the guy landed here once).

    About midway through my blog as more and more strangers started reading it, I went through and changed all of our names. I know some blogging moms have a seperate email with their blog name instead of their usual email address (I think I am going to do that as well after reading this post).

    As a former teacher, I never allowed my students to use their real names or post photos, but I think the popularity of Facebook has made us all a little too uncomfortable.

    Also, I have a very good friend who is an FBI agent. I think I will send him an email and see what he suggests.

    • Thank you for commenting. What should I be looking for in the ‘referers’ box?

      I have deleted all photos of Sam…it’s such a shame as I’ve loved having this simple way of being able to share Sam’s progress with faraway friends…but I obviously didn’t really have any other choice. I was so repulsed by Friday’s discovery and there is no way I can risk it happening again. I’m not too fussed about photos of me being up but doubt I’ll have much inclination to use them – Sam was the cute one in our pair!

      I do have a separate email address for this blog (though somehow get notifications on my personal account – need to check why).

      Thank you for saying you will contact your friend. Any advice is hugely appreciated x

  2. Red

    My fiance is a law enforcement officer. We have discussed this more than once. We have a lot of children…when we are married, a total of fifteen, with four still being under the age of majority. For their safety, I do not use their names on my blog, although I do use their pictures. There are precautions.

    Do not link the picture. This keeps the onlooker from being able to download a visible copy of the picture, as the compression makes it tiny if they save it and pixelated if they try to enlarge it. In the last box on the uploader, choose NONE before you insert into the post.

    I do not reveal our town on the blog, although such information about me is readily available everywhere else. I command a massive internet presence, and run-of-the-mill software will tell you where people are located. WP does this for you when someone subscribes to your blog, by telling you where they think your subscriber lives. Granted, it is off by as many as 400 miles, but it can sometimes be accurate.

    During my 15+ years online, I have shielded my children from many online stalking attempts directed at me by protecting their location and their identities. You can do this.

    The majority of unsavory characters who will happen on your site will do so by a bizarre mixture of keywords you did not mean to choose. Example: naughty bedtime clipart. Brings ppl to my blog in droves, but to a post about making children mind, which just happens to have a clipart illustration. A total Google failure.

    You have nothing here which would satisfy someone looking for paedophilic material. There is a central agency for the UK which takes reports of paedophilic activity. For your own peace of mind, make a report.

    If you want more information, let me know. My email is on my Ask Momma page.
    Red.

    Good information:
    http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/summit.htm#Anchor.8

    • Woweee, 15 kids?! I thought I came from a big family!

      Thanks for the photo advice…I went through each one and did what you suggested…but then couldn’t bear the thought of it happening again so deleted them all. I am wavering on changing mine and Sam’s names – please could you tell me what the danger would be of having just our first names there? I was so naive before and don’t want to do it again…though equally if I can avoid changing them I would be happy – it would seem strange writing about someone other than my little Sam.

      Thank you so much for your comment; I wish I’d found the strength to blog about it immediately so I could have sped along my decisions.

      • Red

        The danger of your first names is only as great as the aggregate of the other information you have out on the web. For example, my family is on Facebook…a lot. Most of my children have accounts to stay in touch with me and their father. If someone were truly looking for us, we are not that hard to find.

        I talked to a friend of mine in the NSA (National Security Agency) who told me their statistics from computer crimes are very low for those who use the internet to view. The majority of computer crime is non-violent (theft).

        Paedophiles use the internet to distribute and use pornography. The most vile of them use aging software to change the look of the pictures they download, however, this practice is monitored by the government here, who tracks the purchases of the software. Yes, before someone jumps on my statement, there are those who fall through the cracks.

        While some paedophiles consider the still image a form of art, the vast majority are dealing in videos. More than half of the still images they distribute are single frames from a video. The numbers here are slightly askew because when a child pornographer is arrested, every picture of a child is considered pornography regardless of the intent of the picture.

        The short version is this. Criminals will do their crimes despite many of our best efforts to deter them. If you want no chance your pictures will be used, simply do not post them. Here, you must weigh your right to share your life and story against the chance someone bent on doing ill will distort it.

        As to your names, you can only be as anonymous as the latest software. Reverse IP locators are common, which enable you to see where an IP address for a computer is. As long as the bad guys are not commenting on your blog, you will not have immediate access to this information without advanced tracking and analytics.

        Since you have had a creep on your site, it is not going to give you much peace of mind to know there is more paedophilic threat to your child in public, as in at the grocer’s. He is not old enough to be in chat rooms, which is where peadophiles troll for victims to lure into the real world. (And I advise all parents to keep their children out of chat rooms. Period.)

        You have another option which would allow you to still blog, post photos and do precisely as you have been without the chance of some random criminal finding your blog: Go private. Only those people who you allow will be able to view your blog. I believe the WP limit now is 35 viewers you can approve to interact with you.

        This is nearly as long as your post, so I will close. Know my prayers and heart go out to you to find peace in whatever you may decide.

        Red.

      • Thank you so much for taking the time for such a long comment. I don’t quite know whether to take comfort from it or whether it scares me more! Either way it is good to become a little more savvy about the dangers of the internet. I wish this topic passed me by and I didn’t have to learn about it; I have trouble watching/listening to ANY news story at the moment without shedding a few tears – so all this talk of paedophilia is really hard to handle, even if hadn’t begun with my son.

        I did consider going on as normal, but making my site private…but then I get a lot of pleasure out of reaching so many people, and as long as I can secure Sam’s safety I’d like to carry on doing so. I am considering setting up a private photo blog purely for friends who I don’t get to see very often…but think I will shy away from posting photographs on any part of the internet until I understand a bit more about how private ‘private’ is.

        Thank you again for your comment, I always appreciate your thoughts and it is an honour to know you read my little blog when you clearly have such a large internet presence x

    • Jem

      Do not link the picture. This keeps the onlooker from being able to download a visible copy of the picture, as the compression makes it tiny if they save it and pixelated if they try to enlarge it. In the last box on the uploader, choose NONE before you insert into the post.

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this simply isn’t true. When you upload an image to WordPress.com the image size is controlled by what’s called a “query string” – a series of characters at the end of the URL – and you can easily manipulate that to get the full size image.

      For example, I just picked this thumbnail from your blog (right-click and view image to grab file URL):
      http://mommasmoneymatters.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/2011-05-28-13-54-22.jpg?w=112&h=150

      If I change the values of w= and h= (width and height respectively) I can easily render a huge version:
      http://mommasmoneymatters.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/2011-05-28-13-54-22.jpg?w=1120&h=1500

      And if I remove the query string info:

      …I have access to the original.

      If you want to use this method (small, low quality versions) to illustrate your blog without giving people potential access to the full size versions, the only ‘safe’ method is to resize the image on the computer and ONLY upload the tiny version.

      • Red

        Using my blog as an example is not a good one, as I stated, I have pictures of me and my family across the internet going back more than a decade. Many pictures of my children are on websites who know me, my children, my fiancee, those I have worked with, sites where my story was relevant to their cause, ad naseum.

        I protect very few of them anymore, as many of them are published in my books and elsewhere. We do many other things to protect our children in real life which renders the internet creeps a non-threat to us.

      • Jem

        Red: I think you’re missing my point. I didn’t pick a picture from your blog because I wanted to suggest you aren’t protecting your pictures enough, I picked a picture from your blog as an example simply because I was replying to you (the image I picked was linked anyway).

        The process I described applies to all images uploaded to WordPress.com blogs (and indeed, self-hosted WordPress installs upload images using an easy-to-manipulate file structure); telling WordPress not to link to images is not enough to protect them and suggesting it is gives people a false sense of security.

      • Thank you for letting us all know. As I have decided against posting photos of my son it no longer applies to me but I have had a number of emails today from mums who DO use pictures and I’m sure they’d be grateful to know which methods of security do and don’t work.

  3. Sonia

    Oh honey I am so so sorry that this has happened. I can’t possibly imagine how horrific it was, though I do also get funny keyword searches from people who stumble on my blog, but never anything creepy or malicious.

    I propose option #5, report the IP address of the searcher to somewhere (maybe one of the UK websites here would help- http://www.ccmostwanted.com/report/report3.htm I’ll have a look when I’m next on my computer) and continue blogging and continue posting photos. Perhaps you could rename your photos to your blog post’s date e.g. “20120102.jpg” instead of “mybirthday.jpg”?

    I think it would be a great shame for you to stop blogging entirely because of this, especially now that you are rediscovering yourself and your dreams of being a writer…

    On the whole I really think this was a fluke. I can’t tell you what to do but I am looking forward to you sticking around 😉

    Sxx

    • Thanks Sonia. I don’t think I’m able to get hold of the IP address; I just get the search term he used (though I could be wrong in thinking this – you know the extent of my computer expertise!).

      I deleted all the photos in the end – just couldn’t bear the thought of it happening again; whether the guy got directed here whether accidentally or not. Such a shame as I love showing off what a cutie he is! Improves my blog 100% having his little face popping up every now and again!

      I will be sticking around 🙂 …for a bit at least – it’s definitely taken the fun out of it for now and I don’t know how I’ll manage with having the constant reminder of it. xx

  4. Yuck! So sorry to hear you are dealing with this. I guess I am happier not reading where my readers come from (all three of them). But you are alerting me to the fact that I need to be more aware.

    Blog/web specific advice/preferences: I avoid using my daughter’s full name, and usually even her first name — I feel better that way. Maybe you could also include pictures that don’t show Sam’s face? While not as cute as seeing his sweet expression, shots of a toddler in action can be pretty adorable. This may or may not apply to you, but I am also on a dating website. In the pictures I have posted of myself there, I have totally removed my daughter’s face — that venue seems wholly inappropriate for sharing my child’s visage and way more dangerous than a wp blog.

    Lastly, a book that helped me feel a lot better and more empowered about how to keep my child safe from bad guys is “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin DeBecker. Great book! Love and luck to you lady. I will ping you if I think of anything else. So sorry for your troubles, but so glad to be learning from you — thank you for sharing.

    No matter what, keep writing! That is the way to protect your soul!

    • Ha ‘all three’ – whatever missy, you must have tons of people visiting each day!

      Possibly eventually I’ll use shots that have Sam vaguely in them (no face on show)…but it won’t be for a long long while – this thing has really shaken me up. I think I will continue to use his name though; it’s not as if it is an unusual name and I would feel strange writing about someone else. Embarrassingly, yes, I am on a dating site – and what you say rings true. I haven’t gone on it for months so my profile could well have been deleted, but thank you; I will check and make sure I had my head screwed on right when I uploaded pics.

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I will check it out. x

  5. Annika Jones

    Just to make you aware, at the right of this blog entry is a link to your facebook page, which contains a photo of you & Sam.

    • Ooh golly, didn’t think of that! Thanks xxx

  6. mommysaidaswearword

    Ugh, I just came across this now, and am so sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling. I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you. You will know the right thing to do (and I hope you don’t stop writing).

  7. Oh gosh how horrible! I am very wary of putting photos of my kids on my blog for those very reasons and have actually been back and deleted a lot of them off, I do this regularly and now don’t include many photos at all. It’s a shame that there are people about like that and we can do little to protect our blogs from them without having to be overly careful about what we are sharing with genuine readers.

  8. I have always been paranoid – and this will open up the debate again, but although it is gross, looking does not constitute harming, and I am sure that there is no intention there to go any further than look. A friend in the Metropolitan police connected to CEOPS consistently tells me that my child is probably seen by this type of person most days on the street, but that that person is not a physical threat to my child. That doesn’t make any of it alright, but it does make me feel like what I put on the internet is not likely to be used by one of these disgusting people to harm me or my child.

  9. Horrible experience. My sympathies. But when the shock has worn off I would cary on as before, but maybe use pseudonyms and be careful that photos don’t reveal too much about the location. I think the fear of paedophilia outweighs the actual dangers of them. A convicted paeodophile lives across the road from us. I was frightened for my children when first realised, but now we just get on as normal. You have to, otherwise children grow up with a very unhappy view of the world. Don’t give up your blog. The paed who strayed by is not worth the sacrifice.

  10. I like you prior to this, am terribly nieve, I do love to see what brings people to my blog and i get around 50 – 100 unique views aday to my blog from google searches alone… i quite often avoid the whole stats thing, but when I do look the search terms is the first place i go to, luckily 99% of the search terms are nice ones, mainly toy product names which link to my reviews… however occasioanlly I see ones such as ‘sex on the beach’ or such like, and quite often these link to images rather than written posts… primarily a post about a camp holiday last year and some sunset photos… I use statcounter.com which is very indepth so you can see the ip address, what search term they used and what pages they clicked on within your blog, also if they physically click to download or view your pictures larger (or at least i can see that data but then WP might not allow that much data to be collected – i use blogger) anyway thats reassuring because then if someone does use a funny search term i can satisfy the fact they simply only clicked in and went again straight away.. however to sit and study the stats daily would be far too time consuming so i do try to not get too fasicinated by it all, but like actually mummy said I tend to have the opinion off strange people as vile as it may be to us, are searching these temrs all the time, and by them possibly clicking into your blog and seeing a picture of your little boy, isn’t really any major threat to him, if these people have the need to type the terms into google then the likely hood is have these thoughts when walking down the road in the supermarket etc etc and could quite possibly be the neighbour/school teacher/ priest whoever.. you get the picture.. so seeing a photo related to a search term as unsettling as it may be, isn’t in my opinion, enough of a reason to delete my blog or stop me from sharing photos (which is a huge part of my blog) which i get so much joy from, I make sure my children are safe, I link my blog to my blog specific facebook page – not my personal one, i only state i’m in ‘derbyshire’ no where specific, and my children know how to conduct themselves online now they are getting older and the photos i post i’m pretty sure would not be too much intrest to the stranger sections of society… it is a tricky one tho, I don’t feel I am putting any undue risks onto my children, and its would be a very very sad world if all childrens photos were wipped clear off the internet. Childhood is a wonderful time, photos sharing memories are beautiful, think about children in the next catalogue, or on a professional photographers website showcasing their photos, or on school websites… photos of children are everywhere and that is a good thing… what a sad world if we had to take them all away, photos are not a threat in my opinion and sharing them should not be seen as something we need to be ashamed off and hide away… hope i make sence and big hugs to you x

  11. seo

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!

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