Sometimes the most dangerous mistruths are those carefully blended with a good smattering of facts and real information. Or containing truthful facts simply out of context, out of date or misunderstood. Unfortunately digging away into the real facts takes slightly longer than simply hitting ‘share’, but I am always amazed at the way people simply pass things on when exhorted to do so, spreading fear and alarm in the mistaken belief they are protecting people.
Anyway, this thing doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment, regarding geotagging of mobile photos. Let’s look at the facts.
Yes, your photos are geotagged by default on the iPhone and many smartphone platforms. This is part of the metadata in the image file, the EXIF data, that includes a range of other information about the device and conditions of the image capture. If you examine your photos in something like iPhoto you can see them on a map, plot your travels, etc
However, much to the annoyance of some professional photographers attempting to protect their copyrights, Facebook REMOVES all metadata from photos that are uploaded to the site. As indicated in a recent Costa Connected article, anyone who can see your photos on Facebook can download them – but they will be without any EXIF data attached, they will NOT be geotagged.
This is the Facebook message people are exhorted to copy and paste to terrify their friends:
WARNING!!!! If you take photos with your cell phone
“Warning” If you, your kids or grand kids take pics from your phone—WATCH THIS!
This is truly alarming – please take the time to watch. At the end they’ll tell you how to set your phone so you don’t run this risk!
PLEASE PASS THIS INFO TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO TAKES PICTURES WITH THEIR CELL OR SMART PHONE AND POSTS THEM ONLINE.
The article links to a youtube video (with ads enabled, so someone gets a few cents each time someone views it) to an NBC report from nearly 3 years ago, about the use of tracking software to abduct children. UPDATE: the video and article seems to be removed now – but people are still sharing the link and the panic on Facebook. Go figure!
Did Facebook capture geotagged metadata 3 years ago? I don’t know. They don’t now. Here is the statement confirming this https://www.facebook.com/help/217211948386648?q=metadata&sid=0syGJAOTCpQRm09mX
Incidentally, Twitter, Flickr and many other photo-sharing sites have recently enforced similar actions, this is bad news for photography professionals but good news for anyone concerned about their personal photos being used by anyone wishing to identify where they were taken. Note the phrase ‘where they were taken’ – people move around… this is not, and never was, the same as your child bearing some kind of tracking beacon to attract kidnappers.
If you are worried about the safety of your children’s images on Facebook here are a few things you can do that will actually help – feel free to share this with your friends, I am sure this article will never gain the traction of the scaremongering freakout referenced above, but every little helps:
- Make sure your default security, and that of every photo album, is locked down to ‘friends only’
- Make sure your Facebook friends are your friends – as in, people you actually know! If in doubt, bump them into your acquaintances list and don’t share your photos with them – simple
- Don’t use images of your children in your cover photo or profile picture, which are public by default
- Don’t include information in your ‘About’ section indicating where you live, where your kids go to school, etc
You also need to understand that geolocation metada is real, your phone probably captures it by default, and you can turn it off if you want. You may wish to do this if you share photos via personal websites or blogs, or via email.
You can google how to do it for your specific make of phone, or you can take it off when you upload your photos to your computer prior to distributing – here’s how http://www.labnol.org/software/remove-photograph-metadata/19588/
In the meantime, nearly 18 million views and rising, whoever posted that random outdated and irrelevant news video has done very nicely out of scaring Facebook users – if you have been helping them by sharing it, maybe you should ask for a cut?
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, August 23rd 2013
Casslar Consulting SL