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Digital Photos Can Present a Privacy Issue

 

Too much information. It's one thing that we inundate ourselves with information - that we have so much information available to us on a daily basis - but a significant privacy issue is created when we share information and are not even aware of what information we're sharing (hence the need for even more information, such as this article).

 

Quick Facts:

Digital photos have unseen information attached to them.

This can include the location the photo was taken

Some new cameras and most new smart phones can do this

It may be a default setting that is turned on and you're not even aware of it

Special software is required to even see if this information is in a photo

 

It is so easy to share information. A case in point is last summer when the author wanted to sell a car. It was about a 1-hour job to wash it up, place it on a nice patch of lawn, take some photos and then compose ads for Craigslist, Kijiji, Buy/Sell, etc., and beautifully augment each with a bunch of photos. I'm the kind of guy who takes pride in his photography so I took the time to dig my SLR & tripod out and do it up right. But more people than not would simply use their smart phone. That might be a bad idea.

 

While going over the photos at my computer just before uploading them to the first ad, it occurred to me that the license plate was quite legible in a couple of the photos. I have no idea what nefarious deeds anyone could do with a license number and a photo of the car, but why take chances? Simply don't share information that you don't intend to share, so I "PhotoShop'ed" the images a bit and away we went.

 

Car for sale *Sold*

Car for sale *Sold*

 

By the same token, you wouldn't want to share your address if there's no need to. Even if it was just your house number appearing in a photograph that you wanted to upload to a social networking or classified ad site, it would be best to correct that or choose another photo.

 

What about the exact location, to within 10 feet, that the photo was taken? Believe it or not, this is the kind of information that is now being included in the “EXIF” metadata that is inside digital photo files. It’s done with good intentions. Having Geo-location information in a photo can actually be a convenience if you want to chart a bunch of photos on a map and link them so a reader can simply click on a point in the map to obtain a sort of “street view” photo the same way you can get one in Google Maps. As a matter of fact, “Geo-Tagging” photos is the technology that makes the street view in Google maps possible. For years now, people have been purchasing add-on devices or adding geo-tag information manually for just this purpose and now the camera and smart phone makers have started incorporating this feature into their products. Read Tim Makins’ article on “How to Geo-Tag Photos” at mapability.com.

 

It’s best to know for yourself if this feature is turned on or not because you never know when you’re going to share a photo that has location information attached to it that shouldn’t be there. In an age where people routinely and frequently take photos with their smart phones and upload them to social networking sites, having location information in the photos can only be a liability. A recent WABC news item points this out and talks about a web site that’s devoted to the subject, called “I Can Stalk U”.

 

How do you know if your digital photos have this information in them? First, see if your camera or smart phone is capable of geo-tagging photos and if this feature is turned on. “I Can Stalk U” is a good resource for finding out how. If, on the other hand, you want to check a digital photo file itself for geo-location information, it’s necessary to find software that’s made for this purpose. While photo editing software will show you some of the EXIF metadata in a photo, it doesn’t necessarily show you all of it. To see all of the information, search software download sites such as Tucows.com or CNET’s download.com for an EXIF editor/viewer. To see an example of EXIF metadata from a photo, click here.

 
Professional Locksmiths Association of Alberta
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