To Whom It May Concern: Your Photos Are Giving Away Your Location.

To Whom It May Concern: Your Photos Are Giving Away Your Location.

True story: My husband’s and my family and friends rock. Really. They have long respected our social sharing policy of not posting photos of the kiddos online. And it’s awesome. And we are incredibly thankful to them. Since these family members and friends rock, they frequently send us photos via text or the shared spaces we have set up, rather than posting to social media. Which, I’ll say again, is awesome. It also brings me to this blog.

Location, location, location.

Over the years, I’ve received numerous pictures, immediately clicked "save to Photos" and enjoyed looking at them with the kids, printing for frames, saving to our AppleTV screensaver, etc. At the same time, I often discover the photographs have a geotag. In other words, our neighborhood (or wherever the photo was taken) is all of a sudden listed above the image rather than the picture’s date. As a Trepid Tech Mom, I tend to worry about these things and often mention the geotag to the sender, just so they are aware of the info their photos provide.

Long story short. Because many of my family and friends are glad to have this information, I thought I’d share here as well.

What is a geotag?

Let’s quickly address the question of what a geotag is. There are a lot of "fancy" definitions, but mostly a geotag is info in a digital media file, like pictures or videos, that tells where it was taken. It can have pinpoint accuracy. For families everywhere, this means photos share not only fun memories but also the places we frequent like a park, restaurant, school, daycare, church and yes, even our home. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of it, but if you want to know more, there is plenty of info available on how GPS photo taggers work.

To enable, or disable, that is the question.

When I message family and friends about geotags, I also share how to enable and disable the feature which isn't to advise them to opt one way or the other; it's so they can make informed decisions about their privacy settings. As it turns out, most are not aware that their photographs give away location—and many choose to disable.

How to disable geotags.

On Apple iPhone or iPad

  1. Go to "Settings" (gear-looking icon)

  2. Click "Privacy" (blue-white hand icon)

  3. Click "Location Services" (blue-white arrow icon likely at the top)

  4. Click "Camera" (grey camera icon)

  5. Choose "Never”

On Android devices

Full disclosure, I’m an Apple girl. This information is courtesy of technobezz.com, and they note the steps are similar for all Android devices:

  1. Open the Camera app on your Android smartphone or tablet

  2. Tap on three horizontal lines to open the menu

  3. Now, tap on the gear icon

  4. You will see the camera settings

  5. Tap on GPS tag (on some devices this option is named differently, for instance, geo tag, location tag, etc.) and turn it off.

Different sites share different data.

Worried about photos you’ve shared online already? Lifewire puts our minds at ease—a little—in their article, “How to Remove Geotags From iPhone Pictures:”

Some social networking sites strip location information from images when they're downloaded from the site or even uploaded to the site from your phone. So, you don't have to worry that all images you've ever uploaded to the Internet from your phone include location information. However, most social media sites still let you add location information later once the images have been uploaded, and that can equally be a bad idea.

It’s also important to remember, as ABC 15 in Arizona reminds us in, “Photos posted online could have hidden metadata that could put you in danger” we should know what data we’re posting on a website or service before uploading:

Popular social media services including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram strip out revealing metadata when a photo is uploaded. Other websites, including Flickr and 500px, preserve at least some of the data. Anyone can then download a photo and view the metadata using free software or websites, like this one.

Final Trepid Tech Mom thoughts

When using our smartphones, computers, and other smart devices, there are plenty of ways we can give away our location. Third-party apps and websites also gather and use information based on the current location of our smart devices to provide various location-based services. So, it’s essential to remember enabling or disabling whether a camera can tag the place where it was taken is just one example of how we, as digital citizens, can choose what we share.

Whether you or others opt to enable or disable these capabilities, here’s to making informed decisions as it relates to our families and online privacy. I’ve said it before: we, as parents and caregivers, should never be afraid to speak up. Start the conversation about things like geotagging because having that knowledge is part of safe and thoughtful digital parenting. There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to make the Internet a safer place for its users, and we, as parents and caregivers, MUST be part of the solution.