Thursday, July 19, 2012

Data Privacy & Pictures with Geo Tagging

There is this news of a very weird fellow in US who did not act nice to someone else's food and then had the gall to take picture of it and then post it online. Good thing was that the perpetrator of this act was located and report suggests that the management intends to fire him. It is not the news that interesting but how the users located this guy. As it turns out, there is this thing called Geo Tagging.

Digital cameras have long been in the process of being ditched in favour of Phones with good cameras. They are handy and are much readily available when you need to capture 'that' particular moment. In today's world of smart phones, camera usage, its quality and functionality is increasing day by day. One of the feature is Geo Tagging.

With this feature, whenever you take a picture, the software applies the Latitude and Longitude information obtained from your smart phone's repository of GPS coordinates  which is gathered by various apps for example Google Maps, Google Sky, Navigation etc. When you upload these photos on a picture portal like Picasa, this information is maintained in Exif area of the image file. Exif also maintains information regarding the camera, lens settings, ISO etc as Meta Data of that particular image.

The thing about Exif area of the image is that it can be utilized. Digital cameras have been maintaining this information for a quite a while now. Most of the data in Exif is informational material and is really helpful. Some of it might be useful in a way not really intended, The guy in the above referred news was located by GPS location maintained in Exif.

So why am I telling you this? Because we live in Pakistan and its a very interesting country :p We all take pictures and post them on online social sites like FaceBook and Twitter etc. The males in our society are a touch more interested in female info. So if you are at your home and you took a very beautiful picture of a bee sitting on a flower and shared it with your friends and the 'whole god damn world' (assuming you are not aware/ concerned with privacy) then someone can extract the information from that picture and can actually locate your home. Totally fine with me if you are comfortable with that scenario and the perverts that lurk out there.

So what can be done?

1 - Disable the Geo Tagging feature of your smart camera. This will ensure that no GPS location is fed in Exif area of the file.
2 - You can dig out the Exif area through editors in which case you might be compromising on the data quality.
3 - Use Exif software to edit out information. A good read and tool is here to remove Exif info.
4 - Use security settings of your social site to maintain privacy.

Any other idea? Please share.

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