Saturday, January 22, 2011

Are You Giving Away Your Personal Information?

Would you give a stalker the street address of your home? Would you give a pedophile the precise location where your children play? If you have posted a picture online, you may have already done that.

Pictures taken with GPS-equipped digital cameras usually embed the GPS coordinates within each picture. Most cameras have an option to turn this capability on or off, but the default setting usually is ON. Unless you have taken action to specify otherwise, the camera probably is recording the exact location of every picture you take, plus or minus 10 feet to perhaps 50 feet.

Did you take a picture of your children playing in the back yard? That picture probably contains the exact location of that back yard, plus or minus a very few feet. The same is true for the pictures taken at the Little League ballpark, at the school play, or most any other place. Did you take a picture of your fancy new car sitting in the driveway? Yes, a car thief now knows where to find it.

Not all digital cameras are GPS equipped although most "smartphones" do have both cameras and GPS capabilities. Do you have an Apple iPhone? An Android phone? A Windows Phone? If so, I'd bet money that you are including precise locations with every picture you post online.
NOTE: I might lose a few of those bets but I'd win the majority. I only bet on sure things.
Social networking sites are notorious for sharing personal information from people who do not realize how much privacy they are losing. Did you snap a picture with your cell phone  and post it on Facebook? Or on any of the photo sharing sites? Facebook Places is especially bad, perhaps the worst. I bet that I or anyone else can tell you precisely where you took the picture. Again, I only bet on sure things.

Luckily, there are several easy solutions. Probably the best solution is to turn off the inclusion of GPS data with the metadata of the pictures. The exact instructions will vary from one camera or cell phone to another. See the owners manual or perform a Google search for your phone to find the exact instructions.

Another solution, although not nearly as convenient, is to use a photo editing program to edit your photo before you upload it. Programs like Photoshop Elements can erase metadata, including GPS latitude and longitude. Since I am a rather devious person and would enjoy sending thieves and perverts on a wild goose chase, I'd rather CHANGE the information than erase it. I'd prefer to change one or two numbers in the coordinates rather than erase them. Now the photograph points to a location several hundred miles away.

Not all photographs need to have the info deleted or altered. When I write a newsletter article about a genealogy conference held in Mesa, Arizona, I don't care if the accompanying photographs indicate a location in the convention center. However, if I take a photograph in my own living room, I might want to obfuscate that information.

Please think about the implications before you upload.

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