I recently saw a post on several friends FaceBook pages, all going to the same website, with the same headline: “WARNING!!!! If you take photos with your cell phone“. Clicking the link brings you to a website with a warning about the dangers of posting photos from your cell phone on social media sites. The article has since been removed, but it’s available in Google’s cache if you really want to read it. It’s more of a dire warning to watch a video from the NBC affiliate KHSB in Kansas City, MO and spread the word.
My issue is that, while it’s true that the photos on your phone do include the data they are mentioning, it’s easy for ANYONE to find that information (it’s not limited to “hackers”), and most social websites (Facebook and Twitter at least) remove that data when the photos are shared.
If you take a minute to save the first one to your hard drive and open it with a program that can read the Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format) data, you can find my location (latitude and longitude) when I took the photo. On the Mac, just open the images in Preview, which comes with all Macs – if you have a PC, you can do a Google search to find something to read it. In Preview, do Command + I (or go to the “Tools” menu and choose “Show Inspector”) and the info window will appear. Select the second tab, then the GPS tab in the second row and you’ll get something like this:
I then copied and pasted the Latitude and Longitude:
Latitude: 41° 15′ 18″ N
Longitude: 73° 0′ 0″ W
In other words, when the photos were uploaded, they removed the GPS data.
Is this a perfect system? Not really. If you uploaded images before they started to remove the GPS data, it’s possible that the data is still there. For example, when I first heard about this, in February 2012, I did some searches to see what I could find.
I ended up writing an email to a specific “friend” I met on Twitter, and who happened to have some photos that had GPS data embedded:
First of all, I’m _not_ a stalker, simply a fan.
I was sent an email today, ostensibly for parents, but really, just for anyone who should be thinking before posting things online: YouTube link.
(the gist: if you take photos on your smart phone, when you post them online, the geo-tagged info might still be in your photos).
I first went to Facebook to see if some photos that had recently been posted by people I knew had geotag info – nothing. I think that Facebook actually strips out the EXIF data, which I guess is good.
Next I went to twitter and started looking for photos posted there by people I follow, and struck out again.
I expanded my search again, and found, after looking at a photo you Instagrammed, that one of the photos you posted on your twit pic contained the data [link provided but removed].
To get the data, I saved the file to my desktop, opened it in Preview on the Mac, then brought up the Inspector (under the tools menu).
Latitude: 40° xx’ xx” N
Longitude: 73° xx’ xx” W
There’s also a handy “Locate” button, which opens a browser to: here
Which includes a street address:
621-699 W 40th St
Manhattan, NY 10018
Again, I’m _NOT_ stalking you. I just need to be clear on this. OK? You just happened to be the first person that I found who was sharing photos that had the geotag data in it.
Anyway, I went to one of the websites mentioned in the YouTube video and it turns out that it’s well known that TwitPic doesn’t scrub the data:
And instructions on how to disable it, so that even if the website doesn’t scrub the data, it won’t be there:
Anyway, just thought you should be aware – I’ll be sending out some similar letters to friends and family.
(again, really not a stalker)
I ended up never sending it – it felt too stalkerly – but the video I linked to then is the same video!
There are ways to turn the GPS data embedding off if you want, just do a web search for “(your phone type) and disable gps tagging”.
I still check my uploaded photos every month or so, just to make sure – better safe than sorry!