August 17, 2010
Nerdsonsite

The Hidden Dangers of Geotags

[This post comes to us from Nerd Dennis Houseknecht…]

One of the wonderful things about the internet and social networking sites is the ability to share photos with friends and family – or with everyone, if we choose. There have been many warnings about posting photos of a personal nature, and it is unwise to post ANY image that you would not want anyone or everyone to be able to view. When it comes to privacy on the internet, it is best to assume that there is NONE. Period.
There can be real risks, though, to posting photos on the internet which go beyond privacy concerns. Many people are not aware that when photos are taken with cell phones, some digital cameras, or other devices that contain GPS receivers, these photos may contain “geotags”. Geotags are hidden pieces of “meta-data” embedded in the picture files that reveal the location where the photo was taken. These geotags are very useful to photographers to help catalog photo locations and even to casual users to help remember where a picture was taken. These geotags are not readily visible in the photos, but can easily be extracted from the image files.
When geotags are included in publicly available photos, they can provide information that the photographer would not want to have revealed. Take the example of Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame. He posted a twitpic of his Toyota Land Cruiser parked in front of his house which contained an embedded geotag. Now his home address has potentially become public knowledge.
You may think that only public figures would worry about such things, but social networking sites often contain LOTS of other information, such as travel or vacation plans, information about other family members or roommates, etc. Photos may show expensive cars or jewelry. The combination of these details and the exact location where the photo was taken can easily give a would-be criminals more information than you would want them to have.
I don’t want to promote paranoia, but everyone should at least be aware of just how much information they are publishing on the internet when they upload photos. It is possible, of course, to disable geotagging in any device that has that capability. You can find information on disabling geotagging on smart phones at https://icanstalku.com/. And…when all else fails – RTM (Read The Manual).

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