THE BLOG

The Danger of Telling the Web Where You Are

04/28/2013 11:22 EDT | Updated 06/28/2013 05:12 EDT
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Social Media has become a diary of our lives. We no longer make photo albums for our own personal use but rather digital albums that we then share on Facebook of our fondest memories, our most glamorous photo opps and our beautiful children. Our diaries which were once secured by lock and key are now easily available to the world. But I wonder how many people realize the inherent dangers of the pictures they are sharing with the world.

If you are reasonably tech savvy, you've heard the term Geotagging and you likely avoid Geo-tagging yourself on twitter and Facebook Places because you understand the dangers of letting the world know where you are at all times. You likely feel that because you have turned of those settings in twitter and facebook that you are now safe. BUT, did you know that the app that you are using to take your picture on your smart phone or tablet may in fact be Geotagging without your knowledge.

Did you even know this existed?

Let's start from the beginning and define Geotagging. Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as photographs, videos, websites, SMS messages. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates though they can also include altitude and place names. (source: wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geotagging)

Now that its been defined, you understand how scary in fact Geotagging can be. Yes, its "cool" to check in on Four Square or Facebook's places to every single Coffee shop and airport that you visit but at the same time, you are sending a message to the entire world saying "I'm not home, so now's a good time to break in if you've been thinking about it." On a scarier note, let's talk about those adorable photographs of our children that we like to share online.

Things to consider with Geotagging:

If you take a photo with your smart phone that has location services enabled, you are very likely embedding your GPS coordinates unknowingly to that image. This is not obvious because the coordinates don't appear on the screen or anywhere on the image that you can see so it seems innocent enough. As we unfortunately know all too well, where there's a will there's a way. There are predators out there who can easily access software that allows them to decipher information from these photos that puts us and our loved ones at risk. With most phones, location services tend to be on and this is where the Geotagging gets its information.

We have locations services on because we want to know where the closest Starbucks is to where we are standing or how to get to our next meeting or where the closest parking lot is. That is a vital function of smart phones these days, but there are ways to still be able to access those features without revealing your every move to the world. (step by step instructions provided below)

Geotagging pictures and uploading them can help a criminal determine your day to day patterns. Are you uploading pictures every weekend of your family up at the cottage? Are you posting even non-location specific pictures quite regularly? These predators can be tracking those pictures, pulling the Geotagging information and establishing patterns for where to find you and when. You know all of those delicious dinner dishes you've been served that you often feel the need to instagram? Yup, it's easy to find out where you were or where you frequent.

Our regular cameras are pretty smart these days as well. Most new cameras capture geotagging information through their built in GPS unit which will include shutter speeds, flash and GPS coordinates as well. Many online sites where we store our photos and photo editing/storage software will often bring up a map showing you exactly where that photo was taken.

Ever wonder how it knows where the picture was taken? I never really gave it a second thought as to how iPhoto knew that the picture I had taken of my family on the beach was in Mexico. Now that I know, I will definitely be more cautious when I take it and share it. Don't get me wrong, Geotagging is a nice feature to have for your own recollection of where events took place, I'm simply cautioning you about how that information should be shared.

I understand that we all want to capture all of the memories that make up our lives, I'm just suggesting that we make sure we are only capturing the memories and not the entire diary of the event. Be safe.

Options:

1) You can turn off your location services completely (I highly recommend this) and it's important to note that in case of an emergency, emergency services are still able to locate you.

2) Leave location services on and specify which app has access to your location. For example you may want to grant permission to Google Maps but not to Twitter, Facebook or any photo apps that are installed on your phone.

How to turn off Geotagging on an iPhone

IOS 6

Settings>Privacy>Location Services

Here's a screenshot of what the location settings screen that allows you to give or revoke access to apps looks like on the iPhone:

2013-04-26-sharonsiphone.png

Turn off Locations Services on Blackberry Z10

On the home screen, swipe down from the top of the screen.

Tap Settings > Location Services.

Tap the Location Services switch.

Screenshot for Blackberry Z10

2013-04-26-blackberrylocationservices.jpg

Sorry Android users, you'll have to Google it because there are way too many ways of accomplishing this on the various android devices.

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