How posting pictures online threatens your kids’ privacy (and what to do about it)
Did you know your exact location can be pinpointed from pictures you post online? That with a simple, free, downloadable software, anyone can determine your address, your kids’ daycare, their favourite ice cream spot, even where their bedrooms are in your house or apartment?
If that sounds like the rumblings of paranoia, think again. Watch this news segment to see exactly how experts were able to simply and effectively plot all this information based on the pictures parents took on their smartphone cameras and posted online.
It’s pretty scary stuff. Although I would normally assume this kind of thing was another Internet hoax, the link was forwarded to me by a trusted source at Ometz, an organization in which I have enormous trust and respect. I know they checked this out very carefully.
Immediately after watching the segment, I checked out the site they recommend (www.Icanstalku.com) to learn more. This explained how this cyberstalking is even possible. The answer is metadata, which means the extra information typically embedded in a data file, but hidden from casual viewing. Turns out when we take pictures on our smartphones, we are generally also recording information about the photographer, camera settings (like ISO, aperture or processing software). Since many of today’s smartphones are also GPS-enabled, and since the default setting is to allow location recording, it also embeds information about where the picture was taken. This is also called Geotagging.
Take a deep breath. You can easily change this. The same website offers a useful series of steps for changing this default setting on most smartphones. Click here and find your smartphone (and your kids’ smartphones) on the list. Follow the steps and make the changes.
Be aware that changing the default will affect your abilities to use GPS and mapping apps on your phone. When you want to use those, you can change the settings back temporarily.
Of course, making these changes affects all future pictures taken and posted. I can’t offer you too much in the way of reassurance about the pictures you’ve already snapped and uploaded to the Internet. You can try and retrace your steps and remove them, but there’s no guarantee they haven’t been copied and reposted in other places.
Like many things online, we learn as we go. It’s an admittedly uncomfortable feeling for parents.