How Secure is Your Geodata?

March 7, 2011  
Posted in Featured, metadata

There has been lots of talk lately about stalkers locating you based on the photos you post online using your smart phone or GPS enabled mobile phone. I have received numerous emails from concerned friends and family warning me of the dire straits and danger lurking around the next photo I post of my dogs at the park. Truthfully, I deleted them all. “It’s just another urban myth,” I nevertheless thought to myself.

But is it?

In this day and age of wanting to capture as much data as possible, it seems archaic and counterproductive to want to delete data. The folks over at PBS’s Idea Lab explained how and why to in their article, “How to Remove Location Information from Mobile Photos.”

They point out the need for safety and security for folks like journalists, citizen reporters, and activists to be secure in insecure regions – Egypt? Libya? Charlie Sheen’s house? But what about you and I, do we need to be concerned?

First off, you should check and see if the data is being captured in the first place. Even if you do use a smart phone, that doesn’t necessarily mean “geotagging” is being captured and stored on your SIM card.

Most cameras and video recorders don’t instantly attach location data or geographic coordinates to photos and videos. But some smart phones, such as the iPhone and Android phones, automatically embed latitude and longitude at which the picture was taken in each photo’s metadata.

Geotagging began before mobile devices became so popular. Its original intent was to let other photographers know the location of a photo and other details like shutter speed. Like so many things online, things get used and taken out of context. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to worry about how your data could be misinterpreted and misused.

The same goes for the location apps so many people use on their phones, i.e. “Jim Black is at Starbucks.” I’ve never understood the fascination of a) advertising to the world my every move - my life is not that exciting, and b) broadcasting your comings and goings to potential wrong doers.

I believe, like many things, it is an individual’s choice — but education and awareness are always in order. Now that we know snapping that photo on the beach and posting it on Facebook might tell the whole world we aren’t at home and ultimately our house is available for looting – maybe we’ll think twice before doing so.

Melody K. Smith

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