When it comes to technology, it seems there is a new risk for every convenience. The ability to send pictures from your phone to social networking sites is one of those conveniences. The ability to identify your location through those pictures is the risk.
When you take a picture with your smartphone, hidden information is attached to that photo through metadata. That information can include the date and time the picture was taken, the type of phone used and GPS coordinates that identify the location. "Now that I have a daughter, my nightmare scenario is a teen girl chatting with a predator online," says John Bambenek, Chief Forensic Examiner at Bambenek Consulting. "She may not give her real name or her address, but sends a picture. Those GPS coordinates could immediately let that predator know where she lives." Whenever that information falls into the hands of a third party, you could be at risk.
To make matters worse, there are specific programs designed to maliciously gather this information. "These programs search through social media sites and takes any pictures to search for time and GPS data and then puts that on a map so you can track someone over time," says Bambenek.
As a parent, it's tempting to share your family pictures with your social network, but doing so means creating an online presence for your kids. "The most realistic risk to children is the potential harm in the future," says Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, a company that helps parents monitor and remove their child's name from the web. "Much like a FICO credit score, we'll soon have scores measuring our health, dateability and employability thanks to our social networking profiles. If your child has an online profile now, then he or she is more likely to be at risk now or down the road."
You can take steps to protect yourself without having to throw your smartphone out the window. The most important thing you can do it disable your phone's ability to tag photos with location information. This can often be done in the Settings menu, but this depends on your phone's model. Either check the manual or with your service provider.
While the risks are real, you can still share your precious pics with loved ones, but avoid social networking sites to do so. A better option would be a secure, password protected personal site like a Share Site from Shutterfly. Jill Callan's, Shutterfly's Director of Marketing for Share and Services, offers the following tips for parents:
- Stay abreast of privacy settings. Sites like Facebook make frequent changes to their policies and it can be a challenge to keep up and manage your privacy settings, but it's a must to do so to ensure only those you want to view your photos/info.
- Tag with care. Remember that social networks are public spaces with searchable content so be mindful of where you post and how you tag.
- Own it. Read fine print carefully about photo rights and information sharing because you never know if the service you're using is legally allowed to share/disclose your images, content and info.
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