Smart phone pictures can pose privacy threat

6:22 PM, May 3, 2011   |    comments
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People can find your location from the smart phone pictures you upload on the web. It's called geotagging. Every time you snap a photo and post it online, your phone could be sending out metadata.

Metadata is detailed information contained within the photo file, including the date, time and exact GPS location when you took the picture. If you post them online, a complete stranger can click on your pictures and find out your location when you took them, sometimes within a matter of feet.

People who upload numerous online photos may be unknowingly posting a pattern of their behavior, available to anyone with a computer.

"If you start plotting them on a map, you'll see a certain cluster of photos perhaps around your house and a smaller cluster of photos around your workplace," Ben Jackson, co-founder of www.icanstalku.com, said.

The website takes photos people upload on twitter and reveals their exact location, showing how easy it would be to "stalk" them. Jackson says he founded the site to raise awareness about "inadvertent information sharing."

"Be aware of what you're posting," Jackson said.

9NEWS spend a few hours on www.photobucket.com. We were able to click on dozens of pictures and trace them to specific addresses. Geotagging allowed us to discover photos that had been taken at homes, schools, parks and restaurants.

9NEWS used metadata from photos Molly DeWitt posted online to track her down in Arvada.

"That's really scary," DeWitt said. "It would never occur to me that somebody would be able to take the data from a single picture and be able to find out that amount of information. That is frightening."

DeWitt's son Dylan, 12, said many of his friends are hooked on their smart phones.

"They take a whole bunch of pictures on their phone," he said. "I think I should be more careful if I put a picture on there."

Mike Harris, a senior investigator with the Jefferson County District Attorney's office, believes predators are already taking advantage of geotagging.

"People want to prey on our children," Harris said. "One of the first things they want is pictures. And especially if those pictures contain GPS, that's huge."

Harris called online pictures containing metadata "a beacon on our child, it's basically a beacon showing where they're at."

"We have to try to alert parents," Harris added.

Facebook automatically erases geotag information on photos, but it's easy to find on other sites including Photobucket and Twitter.

Here's how you can disable geotagging on different types of smart phones.

Apple iPhone (iOS4):

Go to Settings Menu
Select General
Select Location Services
Set Camera switch to OFF

Android Phones:

Start Camera application
Go to Settings
Turn off Geo-Tag Photos option

Blackberry Phones:

Start Camera application
Press Menu
Select Options
Scroll down to Geotagging and set to Disabled

You can find more detailed instructions here:
http://www.icanstalku.com/how.php#disable.  

Be sure to consult with your phone's manufacturer to ensure you do not damage your phone or erase information while changing your settings.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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