By January 19, 2011

Geotagging Mobile Phone Photographs: Are You Sharing Too Much?

I use my HTC Droid Incredible mobile phone to keep in touch with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. One of the ways is by uploading pictures taken from my phone to social networking sites like Facebook, or even posting them here on Gibberish. There are always privacy concerns when using any social networking site, or any interaction on the Web. The key is knowing and accepting the risks associated with having any personal information online, or developing an online persona.

It turns out that the GPS and camera in your phone may be used to embed data that contains the location of where the photo was taken. This metadata is called a “geotag.”

Normally a geotag is used for fun, or to help you remember where a particular photo was taken after time has passed. It could also be used as a search criteria if your photo catalog / editing software is smart enough to search for it.

However, the information could also be used by stalkers or other online predators, and presents a personal information security risk.

Someone on another forum I visit posted a link to I Can Stalk U. This Web site parses the geotag information from popular sites like Twitter or Facebook, and then publishes that information on their home page.

I think I Can Stalk U is doing a half-good: bringing up the privacy implication of geotagging is important, especially for people who don’t realize they have geotagging enabled on their phones. On the other hand, publishing everyone’s information on a public forum in an easy to read format is a bit of a dick move.

Yes, I realize that other people could read the geotags if they really wanted to, but why make it easier?

I Can Stalk U has instructions on how to disable geotagging for most smartphone operating systems. Their instructions are a little off for my HTC Incredible, but the setting is in the same place.

On the HTC Incredible, do this:

  1. Start your camera application, and open the option drawer by swiping the “>” widget on the left side of your phone:
  2. Open your camera’s settings by clicking the cog / gears icon:
  3. Make sure the geo-tag option is unchecked. It will also say “off.”

Despite some tinfoil hattery about how all smartphones had geotagging enabled by default, and how the gubbermint was out to track us, I think looking into your phone’s settings is a really good thing to do.

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