Geotagging and Social Media, A Dangerous Combination?


Recently, we have been hearing warnings from security experts and privacy advocates about the potential dangers of geotags. В But, what are geotags?

Geotags are codes embedded in photos and videos taken with almost any smartphone or digital camera today. В Every picture taken with a GPS equipped smartphone or camera will have a geotag revealing the latitude and longitude of where the photograph was taken. The problem with this, and hence the warning, is many people do not realize the geotag is there. В They do not understand В they could be compromising their privacy, and potentially their safety, by posting geotagged photos and videos on social media.

Adam Savage, host of the popular science program “Mythbusters,” posted a geotagged picture on Twitter of his automobile parked in front of his house. Not realizing that he had revealed exactly where he lived, Savage’s accompanying text was “Now it’s off to work.” He had unknowingly alerted potential thieves to not only the location of his home, but that he was leaving the house.

Keeping that in mind, think of how many pictures you have posted on Facebook that show your children playing in or around your home. В Or photos that reveal expensive cars, computers and flat-screen televisions in our homes. Do these pictures have geotags attached? It is pretty disturbing when you think about it.

Some individuals have hundreds of ‘friends’ they may never have actually met in person. “By looking at someone’s map tab on Facebook, you can see everywhere they’ve tagged a location.” said Staff Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, of the Online and Social Media Division, in a article posted on the US Army’s website, written by Cheryl Rodewig. В “You can see the restaurants they frequent, the gym they go to everyday, even the street they live on if they’re tagging photos of their home. Honestly, it’s pretty scary how much an acquaintance that becomes a Facebook ‘friend’ can find out about your routines and habits.”

Sweetnam said geotagging is of particular concern for deployed Soldiers and those in transit to a mission. In a real-world example from 2007, the afore mentioned article tells of a new fleet of helicopters arriving with an aviation unit at a base in Iraq, when some Soldiers took pictures on the flightline. From the photos that were uploaded to the Internet, the enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches.

While especially relevant for those in the military, Sweetnam’sВ cautions about geotagging extend to anyone who uses that feature.В Even if there is nothing classified about an individual’s location, a series of locations posted online over the course of a month can create a pattern that criminals can use.

So how do you get rid of the geotags on your photos to safeguard yourself and your family? Disabling the geotag function on a smartphone generally involves going through several layers of menus until you find the “location” setting, then selecting “off” or “don’t allow.” But doing this can sometimes turn off all GPS capabilities, including mapping, so it can get complicated.

The Web site provides step-by-step instructions for disabling the photo geotagging function on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Palm devices.

Protecting your privacy is not just a matter of being aware and disabling the geotagging functions. A friend may take a geotagged photo at your house and post it. В We need to educate ourselves, as well as our children and friends. В We need to be aware of the information we are putting online, and realize that once we put it out there, it’s out there. В There’s no taking it back.

More information on the dangers of geotags:

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