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06 December 2012

Geotagging - a security issue


Geotagging is marking a video, photo or other media with a location. When combined with applications like Google Maps it can help people find images and information based on a location.  This can be great if you’re looking for images of a particular geographical location.  But it can also be dangerous if you post photos on social networks.

Geotagging is available on any smartphone with a built in cameras and GPS, and any digital cameras with built-in GPS.  When you take a photo, the time and exact location of where the photo was taken are saved with the photograph. This hidden data is called EXIF or meta-data.

When you post a photo on a social network with geotagging you are advertising your location.  If that photo is of your home – you are advertising your address.  What if the photo is of your child at a school function – you have allowed anyone to identify your child and the school they attend.   If it’s a photo of you on holiday, you are also advertising that you are not at home – a great opportunity for someone to break into your home.  

Every geotagged picture contains the longitude and latitude, making tracking easy for Google Maps and Google Earth.  Your pictures could even appear in search results, as Google uses these geo-tags to identify the region images belong to and displays them when a location is searched.  Just taking a photo of someone or something outside your home is enough for your exact home address to be identified.

How do you stop geotagging?

On most smartphones it’s as easy as switching off the GPS, but you’ll also need to check your settings to make sure your phone doesn't also have the option of tracking your location using wireless networks. 

On a digital camera you’ll need to find and disable the geotagging function.   You’ll probably need to check the user manual, and possibly even contact the manufacturer.  If you’re shopping for a new camera, you can save yourself some money by not getting one with built-in GPS.

Once that’s done all your future photos are safe, but it doesn't change any existing photos you've taken that have already been geotagged.

What can you do about photos that have already been geotagged?

You can use geotag removing software to go through all your existing photo files and remove the geo tags.

Pixelgarde is a free app for PC, Mac, iPhone and Android phones that allows you to view, change or remove geotags from your photos. http://pixelgarde.com/

Geotag Security is free program that removes geotags from your photos – you can download it here  http://www.geotagsecurity.com/

If you use Picasa to edit your photos, you can also use it to remove geotags:
  1. Select the geotagged photos.
  2. Click the Places button in the lower right corner of Picasa.
  3. Click the red geotag icon on the map.
  4. Click 'Erase location info.'
  5. Export/Save your photo (because Picasa doesn't change your original photo - it just remembers the edits you make so that they appear whenever you display your photos in Picasa)

Go and change your settings now  - before you take any more photos and put your family at risk.


3 comments:

  1. Scary! Thanks so much for the info. Z

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Thank you, yes it is scary - there have been reports of attacks and thefts resulting from people geotagging their photos.

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