Photos You Post Online Can Give Away Your Location

Every time you post a photo online from your smartphone, you’re potentially identifying exactly where you were when you shot the picture. Digital images are encoded with geotags that record the coordinates, which can be easily uncovered by anyone with the software and know-how.

Fox News speaks to a security expert behind the ominously named site icanstalku, which uncodes images at random to give Twitter shutterbugs a reality check.

Says the expert to Fox:

“Unfortunately, when people are instantly publishing these photos online it can then provide breadcrumbs to where they were and where they might hang out. It’s easy enough that I can probably teach a grade schooler to do it.”

What types of photos do you usually post online from your phone? If you weren’t aware of geotags before, will the knowledge cause you to operate differently?

Digital Photos Hide Data — and Cyberstalkers Can Find It, Expert Warns [Fox News]

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  1. MamaBug says:

    I’m sorry, I saw Fox News as a source and immediately cast doubt on the whole thing.

    • nbs2 says:

      No need to doubt the accuracy. The problem is that it’s Fox, meaning that there is an unnecessary element of fear. Something akin to “terrorists are going to blow us up with water!!!!!”

      • not-gonna-tell-ya says:

        Baaaaa

        • bastion72 says:

          Fox news isn’t the only one sensationalizing shit like this, so don’t put this only on them. Try watching Nancy Grace once in a while.

          • not-gonna-tell-ya says:

            Oh I don’t disagree with you. The problem I see is that left leaning individuals aren’t used to having their universe turned upside down by an alternate point of view. They (Like the posters above) simply can’t handle it and lash out. What’s truely amazing is that for decades the right hasn’t had a voice in the media, and when it does get a foothold, they provide for more diversity, and spectrum of thought than the traditional media has ever done.

            • MamaBug says:

              I’m sorry, are we watching the same news channel? because all i see on Fox “News” is fear-mongering and demagogues, not to mention inaccuracy.

              • not-gonna-tell-ya says:

                LOL. First off, I doubt you even watch Fox news. Second, you neglected to address my comments and simply shifted to another sub-topic. Either way, you wear your bias on your sleeve. I am not saying Fox news is a god sent pillar of perfection. No one can stand up to that standard. I will say that their hosts don’t constantly rail on politicians because they are fat, or a woman. They don’t spend one day bashing the left (unchallenged) over an issue and then not report the same issue about someone on the right. A perfect example of the fairness would be the coverage of the elections. MSM had panel upon panel of ALL left leaning individuals and anchors. Giving unfounded opinon and attacks on the right. Fox had anchors leading panels of left and right leaning contributors giving the same unfounded opinion and attacks on the left AND right. Having an anchor sputtering opinion is a no no in the news industry. Commentators on the other hand should be free to give their opinion, be it left or right, hopefully both, yet you saw none of that unless you were watching Fox news that night.

              • dragonfire81 says:

                In general, your feelings on Fox News are no doubt affected by your feelings on politics in general. I don’t have a problem with a conservative leaning media outlet, but there’s a difference between conservative leaning and Tea Party TV and I find Fox to be more of the latter than the former.

                Every once in awhile they will hit on something good, but you have to wade through some BS to find it. They have blatantly misrepresented facts, sometimes even outright lied to push a point of view. They even altered pictures of a couple of liberal leaning reporters to make them uglier.

                • not-gonna-tell-ya says:

                  LOL. That reminds me of every time they pull up a picture of George Soros. Looks like that one Muppet. It’s probably the worst picture he’s ever taken. I’m not sitting here with Right wing blinders and I’ll agree that some of your points are valid. The problem I have is that you can EASILY substitute Fox news in your comment with ANY other news outlet and the same will be true.

                  My problem is that the left will never admit to that.

      • Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

        More like, “Terrorists are going to poison us with Dihyrdous Oxide”

        • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

          It is in every river, contaminates every lake and swimming pool, has been found in bathtubs and toilets. Hundreds of adults and children die every year in incidents that invole dihydrous oxide.

    • deadandy says:

      It’s not news unless you can somehow connect it to fear or greed!

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Well, does the fact that 4chan uses the same technique to track people down to mess with them/get justice make it better?

    • PsiCop says:

      There’s an old saying that even a broken clock is right, twice a day. The problem is a real one. Maybe the scaremongering is excessive, but anyone who has reason to suspect they might be at risk, should think about what they’re doing.

    • spamtasticus says:

      The best way to get around this is to open the picture on your computer and take a screenshot of it then post that. That way you are 100% sure there is no camera meta data.

  2. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    This is news? Old news yes.

    But, who really needs to be concerned about this? Well everyone should be at least aware of it as this could provide a great alibi should you need one. “I was at the alley bowling! The geotag proves it! Of course I’m not actually in the picture ’cause I’m behind the camera! No, you don’t have to call your mother or a lawyer..”

  3. theblackdog says:

    My phone gives me the option to turn geotagging on or off, and I’ve kept it off most of the time.

    Also, it’s not like people who are familiar with the area you are taking pictures couldn’t figure out where you were? Hell, what do many of us take pictures of? Landmarks and stuff that can easily be figured out. Remember the Consumerist story about the Dominos booger video? People figured out based on some video shots just which Dominos it occurred at.

  4. balthisar says:

    I love geotags. I wish my Canon DSLR had automatic geotagging. As is, I use my smart phone to take a crap picture at a new location, and then use Houdahgeo to match up the geolocations later.

    As I have the unfortunate circumstances of having been born during the 1970’s and without a vagina, I don’t post breadcrumb photos online. :-(

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    The photo itself doesn’t embed geotags unless you have geotags enabled. Just disable them through the apps and you’re fine. The Fox News link has a good link to the site that shows you how to disable geotagging based on the app you’re using. And who says that I’m still at the location tagged in my photo? I’ve posted photos I’ve taken days ago – I guess if the geotag says I’m still at location X, I must still be there.

  6. zigziggityzoo says:

    Big deal.

    In the age of Foursquare, Facebook location, and Google Places… BIG DEAL.

    Also, who on this site didn’t know about geotagging? Seriously?

    • RandomHookup says:

      I didn’t, yet I’ve worked in the high tech space for years. Not a major issue to me, but we can’t all be aware of all the new technologies going on, especially ones that aren’t work related.

      • jebarringer says:

        “new technologies”…. geotagging’s been at least talked about ever since consumer grade gps became available. Heck, some models of gps receivers have contained digital cameras for six or seven years. This is not “new technology”.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I didn’t know about it.

      Sorry if not everyone is not perfectly aware of everything YOU are aware of. Very self-centered of you.

    • eccsame says:

      I didn’t. Guess that makes you the coolest.

      • SG-Cleve says:

        I guess I’m not cool either, I don’t even know what is foursquare.

        Maybe it is really “for square”, a website for people like me.

  7. Tim says:

    I almost never turn the GPS on on my phone. But I checked the EXIF data for some recent photos I took just to be sure, and all of the coordinates are zeros.

    Even if your GPS is turned on, I’m pretty sure there’s a way to set it so it doesn’t geotag photos.

    • Straspey says:

      Also – if I’m not mistaken – I believe there are a number of available software programs which allow you to edit and remove the EXIF data stored on a digital image.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      The iPhone in particular is set up to ask you whether you want to enable geotagging based on what app you’re using, so if you’re not sure what parameters you’ve set, just reset your warnings and every app you open that has a geotagging feature will ask you if you want to enable geotagging. I keep location finder on for my GPS because it can’t function as a GPS without it but I keep it off for everything else (except for Yelp because sometimes I want to know what is nearby).

  8. nbs2 says:

    Perhaps we should take a moment to remember that the phone needs to have some sort of location awareness to make this an issue. Turning off location services, using a non-GPSed phone/camera, or turning off the apply geographic coordinates setting will all resolve this issue in a matter of seconds.

    Besides, it isn’t like your phone is hiding this from you.

  9. Mighty914 says:

    So, I posted a picture from the Rangers game last night (7-0!). I should be worried that someone knows I was at MSG, why?

    • AlphaLackey says:

      As long as the picture doesn’t include you in a Leafs jersey, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

    • SG-Cleve says:

      You are being disingenious on purpose, right? (Is there any other way to be disingenious?)

      Of course the real risk is when you post a photo you took in your living room or your backyard.

  10. skwigger says:

    This is actually marketed as a feature, not a potential security risk.

  11. blogger X says:

    Photoshop. ‘Nuff said.

  12. Bobby Creek Water says:

    I, being tech savvy, was not aware of this until about 2 months ago and the Wife and I were looking at photos taken with her iPhone and noticed that our exact location was embedded in the images… Good thing we aren’t on Facebook or Twitter though

  13. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    Also, your computer is currently broadcasting your IP address !!!!111!!eleven

  14. guaporico says:

    Someone can also identify the location by the landmarks in a photo. It can something as small as some distinctive features of a park that you frequent with your children. Someone knowledgeable of the area could use that information to track you down. Of course if the photos were posted via Facebook or some other site that uses names/tags to identify, then this is a moot point …

  15. AustinDan says:

    Wait, you mean if I post a picture of me standing in front of the Empire State Building, people might know I’m at the Empire State Building!?!?!???!?!?

    I call shenanigans!

  16. Brunette Bookworm says:

    I’ve been paranoid for a while and try to not post pictures of any electronics in my place. Currently I have the geotagging feature off on my phone so people can’t tell where I took pictures. I heard about this a while ago and it is a nice feature when you want to remember where you took a photo, you do have to watch what you post online and how accessible it is because theives can use it to figure out what you have, where you live, and when you aren’t home.

  17. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Also, cameras and laser printers embed a code into your prints and photos that identify the device used to take or print that image.

    If you have criminal tendencies, this knowledge should be entered into your plans.

  18. carlosdelvaca says:

    Also: A random crazy person could come up to you on the street and shoot you! DON’T LEAVE YOUR HOUSE!!

  19. wrbwrx says:

    also, dont leave your answering machine on because someone will know you are not home and will come rob you. also your house will likely be robbed while you are at that funeral because of that newspaper obit.

  20. The Lone Gunman says:

    I can totally see this as becoming the central point of one of those over-wrought CSI or police-procedural shows.

    Just enough facts to make everyone paranoid.

  21. coopjust says:

    It’s called EXIF data, and its nothing new.

    Exifstripper is a drag’n’drop windows tool to strip it one image at a time.
    ExiftoolGUI can do it in bulk.

    Any images uploaded to Imgur.com or Min.us will automatically have the exif data stripped.

    To check the Exif data of an image, you can use ExiftoolGUI, or an online viewer.

  22. failurate says:

    Isn’t this how they finally caught Carmen Sandiego?

  23. Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

    What about pictures tagged with N40° 58.2033′, W073° 52.3561′

    Anyone know where they would have been taken?

    Anyone?

  24. Bruce Hammond says:

    When you upload your picture to Facebook, they don’t keep your original picture. They convert it to a .bmp file which has no geo-data and that is what is stored and what anyone else who sees the picture would get if they downloaded it to their computer and looked at the properties where geo-data would be displayed.

  25. TheGreySpectre says:

    I have a smart phone but I have yet to post a picture online directly from it. First off I am just bad about taking pictures in the first place and second when I do take pictures I always end up posting them when I get home and can sort through them.

  26. duncanblackthorne says:

    For those doubters out there: it’s in the EXIF data, which is part of every jpeg image, which is what your phones are generating.

    Don’t like it? Don’t buy phones with GPS.

  27. BayardMozie says:

    Wait, you mean if someone sees a picture online, of me at the beach taken today, then it’s a pretty good bet that I am not at home?

    Wow, who knew?

  28. tiz says:

    disable geotagging? DERP DERP DERP

  29. vizsladog says:

    Why would anyone post anything to the Internet in the first place?

  30. MJ Dick says:

    almost all of the phones come with this feature turned off, and until you activate the GPS or a linking application, it doesn’t add the tag. unless you are using an android or iphone, then it’s made to do it because most users aren’t smart enough to know the feature is there.