When you post your pics online, you could be sharing more than you know. Most pics taken via our cell phones contain embedded location info that is easily readable by would-be criminals who can then use that data to track you.
How Do Your Pics Get GeoTagged?
When you take a picture with your smartphone or digital camera, it’s typically saved as a JPEG to your device. That image file gets embedded with Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data, which includes the time, date, and GPS location where your photo was taken. That photo’s GPS location is called a geotag.
The Dangers of GeoTagging
Once a geotagged photo in uploaded online, or attached to an email, the geotag becomes available to anyone with access to your online pics or email messages.
How can this place you in danger from a stalker or other would-be criminal? Envision the below scenarios:
1. You are selling an item online.
You want to sell your TV so you take a picture with your iPhone 6 and upload it to your Craigslist posting. A potential buyer contacts you and in the email exchange, in an effort to show more of the item, perhaps you even send along additional pics. If your pics were geotagged, the interested buyer can now identify the location from which you took the photo – usually your home. The “buyer” may ask if you have additional home appliances, electronic devices, etc. to sell. He could be digitally casing your home – with your active cooperation.
2. You are dating online.
1 out of every 4 marriages now originates from online dating sites such as Match, Our Time, Christian Singles, JDate, etc. In your initial posts, to err on the side of safety, you hide your full name, contact information, and where you live. But all of these sites request a personal pic. You take a selfie and post away. Now, whether you like it or not, you have given a potential stalker your exact location.
3. You’re traveling.
It’s almost impossible to not upload and post those envy-evoking beautiful vacay pics of the Bahamas. While you are Instagramming away your gorgeous sunset shots, bear in mind that you have just alerted one of your wacky followers that you are thousands of miles from home.
4. Your valuables.
It’s natural to want to post pics of your new car, shiny Rolex and other bling. Why not post a complete itemized list of your valuables since the criminal already have the address from your geo-tagged brag pics? Trolling social media for just such pics is the new work-from-home gig for today’s thieves.
Although Facebook strips geotags from your uploaded photos, it does show a map of photos you tag. (Just look under “Places” on your profile.) Even the dumbest criminal can figure out that the 35 pics of your bling are probably taken from the same location and, you may even inadvertently let them know where you stash your family jewels.
5. You have a stalker.
If your online profiles are public, any stranger can figure out your routine. We are creatures of habit – a definite advantage for the online stalker who can track when and where you post, whether you are at work, where you live, where you hang out, and when you’re not home. Imagine a stalker (or sex offender) tracking your family pics of your kids in your backyard, at school, at a nearby park, etc.
How To Remove Geotags From New Photos
Now that you realize the very real danger of allowing geotags to remain in your pics, here’s how you remove the geotags before you take the photos:
For an iPhone 5 or 6:
- From your iPhone’s home screen, tap the “Settings” icon.
- Scroll down until you see the “Privacy” tab, and tap “Location Services.”
- Look for the “Camera” tab. Open it, and you’ll see ALLOW LOCATION ACCESS. Click “Never.”
For an iPhone 4:
- Hit the “Settings” icon from the home screen.
- Find the “Privacy” tab, and tap “Location Services.”
- After tapping the “Camera” setting, switch the tab from “ON” to “OFF.”
For an Android:
- Find the camera app.
- Tap the “Settings” icon on in the app.
- Find the Location or GPS tag, and turn it off.
How To Remove Geotags From Photos You’ve Already Taken
If you’ve never disabled location services on your phone’s camera, you have photos in your library that are still geotagged.
To remove geotags from stored pics: use these apps: deGeo or ViewExif for an iPhone or iPad, Exif Eraser for an Android, or Pixelgarde for an Android or Apple device. Pixelgarde allows you to strip geotagged photos in bulk.
Do Social Sites Allow GeoTags?
Fortunately, no. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, eBay and IMgur automatically remove geotag data from your photos when you upload them. Of the online dating sites, Match.com, PlentyofFish, and OKCupid also strip your pics’ location data.
However, Tumblr, Picasa, Photobucket, Dropbox, and Google+ do not remove geotags from uploaded images. Flickr gives you the option to do it.
Craigslist doesn’t provide a definitive answer on its website. Neither does Tinder.
Do Texts And Emails Show Geotags?
Yes. When you attach a photo to an email, that photo’s EXIF data is also included. SMS messages don’t typically retain this data, but iMessages can.
How can access your geotag info?
There are several ways, and some of them are more useful and prettier than others. It all depends on the computer you’re using. Just remember that a determined stalker will take all of the time in the world to break obtain and breakdown the geotag data in his desired target’s pics. But for the rest of us, here are a few ways to get the GPS information from your photos.
On a Mac
If you’re using a Mac, you can access your GPS information by simply right clicking on the photo file you want to view and then picking “get info.”
This will bring up a box showing all of the EXIF data attached to that particular image file.
On a PC
It’s a little different on a PC, but it’s pretty much the same thing. Right click on your image, and then pick “properties.” From there, a similar window should pop up showing all the EXIF data, including the location of the picture you just took.
Bottom line: Pay attention to what you are posting and don’t leave your security – and that of your family- in the hands of a third party.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.