Your Photos are Spying on You

by Jason Finkelstein- March 27, 2012 • 3:37 pm


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Ten years ago, the idea of sharing photos online was strange. Today things are very different. In 2010, Consumer Reports found that 63% of people share photos of themselves on Facebook, and the numbers have only been on the rise since then.

As social norms about sharing photos online have evolved, something else has been changing, too. Unlike in the point-and-shoot camera days, today, many of the pictures you take contain more than image you snapped: they broadcast your location.

What the heck is metadata?

Metadata is information that is stored in a photo file along with the actual picture. Up until recently, metadata was basically harmless and only contained info about things like the photo’s size or the amount of space it’d take up on your computer.

With the advent of GPS and smartphones things have changed. Whenever you snap a picture with a smartphone, it records your current location in GPS coordinates and stores it inside of the photo as metadata. This is known as a “geotag”.

While geotags don’t appear when you’re looking at a photo, simple computer programs can use them to easily trace where a photo was taken.

It’s not hard to see how this could lead to bad things. Geotags could easily reveal where you work, your address, or even what parks your children play in regularly.

How to keep your location private

Luckily, two of the major photo sharing websites, Facebook and Flickr, automatically strip the location information out of all the photos you post on them. However, not all photo sharing sites do this, so it’s a good idea for you to disable it on your end.

This video gives a good overview of how to disable geotagging on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

Some advanced cameras also geotag photos. If you use a digital camera, it’s a good idea to check the manual to make sure your shooter isn’t recording your location every time you snap a shot.

What do you think about geotagging? Is it a privacy violation, or just a fun way to remember where you took a photo?

Photo via iantmcfarland.

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