My friend sent me one of those Snopes-worthy mass-freakout emails informing me that KILLERS COULD TELL WHERE I LIVE BY CODE EMBEDDED IN MY FACEBOOK PHOTOS!!! (Side note: why are killers always hanging out on social media sites? Don't they ever congregate somewhere else?) I immediately went to the urban legend site so I could disprove the hysteria. Except that I learned that the hysteria is actually... true.
Well, not the fact that killers are perusing your Facebook photos, but the fact that geotagging on photos has made it possible for people to see exactly where a photo was taken. And if that picture was taken inside your kitchen... well... now they know exactly where your darling child eats pancakes every morning.
Image: Drnantu via Flickr
It's an old bit of information, and I possibly remembered it inadvertently when I got my phone because I don't have geotagging enabled, but if you have location services on your smartphone or digital camera, every picture you take is pinpointed by latitude and longitude. Though it isn't posted on the front of the photo like a timestamp, that information is accessible to others via an browser extension. And you may not have known that it existed since it isn't apparent at a glance.
You can see how it works in this old video:
How do you turn off geotagging if you don't want people to know all the places you take photographs such as your home, school, or workplace? Icanstalku.com has a guide for various devices.
Spending time on the Snopes site did allow me to peruse dozens of other common social media urban legends including how Facebook Open Graph is going to allow everyone to see all my postings (false), a Facebook status notification hack (undetermined), and your tweets are at the Library of Congress (true).
But back to geotagging: it's true and it's mostly unnecessary when it comes to your photographs -- how often do you need to pinpoint the spot where the image was taken? So turn off geotagging on your photos, and if you really want a higher level of privacy and don't mind a little inconvenience when it comes to GPS-dependent sites such as Google Maps, turn off location services altogether. I still use maps, and I sometimes turn on location services for a moment if we want to use turn-by-turn instructions. But my default setting for location services is off.
We don't have that much privacy in this world, but I can make it at least a little bit harder to know where my images were taken.
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