Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Posting pictures online from a smartphone poses a privacy threat

A newscast from NBC Action News in Kansas City currently has almost 6 million views on YouTube, and it's no wonder why - the report explains how easily internet users can obtain information from pictures online that were taken by a smartphone.

If you haven't watched the video yet, it's worth checking out below, or you can watch it on YouTube by clicking HERE.

Your smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc.) records data with each picture it takes using the same location services as the phone's map app (and for countless other functions, such as Facebook's "Check-In" feature) in a process known as "Geotagging."  Once that photo is uploaded online, any internet user with access to the picture can right-click on it and immediately find a bevy of information.

Curious, I tried this out for myself and took a picture of my computer screen:

Right-clicking on the photo gives me the option to "Inspect Element," which directs me here:

To the average computer user, this mess of letters and numbers is so unreadable it might as well be binary code.  But there are, according to NBC Action News' report, many programs available online that will translate this mess into information we can easily read, such as a specific location on a map.

This means that, when we take pictures of our kids playing at the park (for example) with our phones, and then casually post those pictures onto Facebook, it's fairly easy for someone else to figure out the exact location of where the pictures were taken.  And from there we can become easily traced; predatory internet users can monitor us online and determine the exact places we frequently visit.

This is scary stuff, obviously, and a testament to how much we take for granted about technology.  Most people aren't aware of how much their phones can do without their knowledge, and we allow this to happen because most of us quickly select "I Agree" and never read the endless fine print of our privacy agreements.

Luckily, there is a very easy way to disable your phone from capturing the location of the pictures you take.  I'll show you step-by-step how to do this on an iPhone, but if you want to learn how to do it on a Blackberry you can click HERE, or if you want to do this on an Android, click HERE.

On your iPhone, select "Settings" from the main menu.  You will be directed here:

Select "Location Services", and you will be directed to this screen:

You'll see a list of apps on your phone that use Location Services.  If you see that your camera uses Location Services, simply slide the on switch off.  As long as this is off, your camera will not capture GPS data whenever you take a picture.

by John W. Redmann
Attorney for the Injured and Others who once trusted Insurers©
and Matt Stokes
Co-Author and Online Editor at Redmann Law


  1. This is very frightening!

  2. Great information.

  3. Privacy is very important to me, and I'm so frequently alarmed by these subtle and undetectable invasions.

    Thanks so much for sharing the protective instructions. I'll be waiting for more. I changed my settings immediately!

  4. Very informative. Thanks for sharing. I will pass this on to my friends and family.

  5. Thanks for the info! I had no idea... this is very informative. Forwarding now to friends.

  6. This was a great blog and it had so many useful elements. Thanks for the screen shots and hyperlinks, those were a nice touch.