Remember when cameras used to burn the date and time into the corner of your photos? You wouldn’t know until you got your prints back from the developer (remember them?) and it ruined many otherwise beautiful photographs.
Modern cameras still do record the date and time — and a whole lot more — but now that information is stored digitally, right with the image itself. It’s called metadata, which means additional information about the data.
In this case, the “data” is the image and the additional information involves not just the data when it was taken, but also how (aperture, shutter speed, etc.) as well. If you purchased the fancy model with GPS capability, it also captures where the photo was taken. It’s all wrapped up in those five megabytes or so that we have come to think of as a “photograph.”
It is easy to see all this information. On a PC, simply right-click on an image, select Properties, and look under Details. It works on your own photos or any photo you find online. On a Mac simply click the “info” button in iPhoto to see full detail, including the photo description, time of the shot, and a rating (if you have supplied one).
All that information — the date, the time, even the location — is potentially included when we email photos to our friends or upload them to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr or post them on Facebook.
Then, with the magic of Google Maps, we can use the location coordinates from the photo to revisit the exact location that the photo was taken, via an overhead satellite image or even street view.
Too Much Information?
But what if that photo was of your kid playing in the wading pool in your backyard? Or maybe of your living room with that heirloom art hanging on the wall?
Remember this — it is only one step further to easily convert the street address into your name and even phone number.
As ABC News recently reported, this is now a serious problem. It is not just personal privacy that is at stake, but potentially, the security of your family and your property. Welcome to the digital age, where anything anyone wants to know is just a click away.
My recommendation, clearly, is to turn off the GPS in your camera, or maybe go back to the old days and use a “dumber” camera. But I’d love to hear what other security measures you take to safeguard your digital photos, so please leave a comment below.