The Dangers of Geotagging and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

geotagging
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So you take pictures with your smartphone and post them online. What’s the worst thing that could happen? What personal information could possibly be exposed? Where’s the threat?

Unfortunately, even as careful as some people may be about sharing personal information online, they may be unwittingly exposing information through a process called “geotagging.” So how does this data end up on a public forum like the Internet?

According to our friends at Wikipedia, geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification “metadata” to various media such as photographs, video, websites, SMS messages, or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This information most often includes latitude and longitude coordinates which are derived from a global positioning system (GPS). While that sounds complicated, it really isn’t. It simply means the marking of a video, photo or other media with an embedded location of where it was taken. Smartphones and digital cameras featuring GPS have made this “tagging” possible.

Why should you care about this technology? Well, that snapshot of you in your living room might be all it takes for someone that you don’t want to know where you live to find your home. A picture of you standing in front of your priceless oil painting or collection of valuable knickknacks lets potential thieves know you have things worth stealing. A criminal only has to check for the geotag and now he has you and your property in his sight. They can then watch your postings and activities to find out when you aren’t home and break in.

So, why does geotagging exist if it seems to be only useful to people whom do harm? While geotagging has been shown to be an infringement on the general public’s privacy, the use of geotagging can be quite useful. If a GPS enabled smartphone user googles an Italian restaurant while out of town, the nearest Italian restaurant (with geotagging metadata) to their actual location will be the first thing to pop up on their phone’s browser. This can be amazingly helpful. GPS indicators also can help law enforcement find you should you need them.

The problem with geotagging arises when that information is given out unknowingly and /or pulled by the wrong people as explained above.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from the dangers of geotagging? The helpful hints below can help you do just that:

  • Turn the geotagging feature off: This is the most obvious solution and you can find out how to do this for most phones at http://www.icanstalku.com, which is a website created to spread awareness of the privacy issues of geotagging.
  • Download disabling software: With all of the information coming and going from our phones these days it would be nice to know that someone is looking out to be sure you don’t send out the wrong information. You can download software to your smartphone that will search for geotagging information and delete it before sending.
  • Be aware and educate yourself and your friends: Be sure that you understand what information you are sharing and stay up to date with the products you use that use geotagging information. Make sure your friends are aware of the issue.
  • Watch what you post: You should always think twice, if not three times, about anything you put on the Internet. Once something is on the Internet, it can be assumed it will be there forever. Be sure you are very comfortable with what information those posts contain.

Technology is full of little surprises such as geotagging that we take for granted when using them for helpful purposes, but which can be exploited for dangerous purposes by the wrong people. By keeping informed on the devices you use and the information they may provide you can help to keep what you want private…and still use them to help you find a good Italian restaurant.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.