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Your photos may reveal more than you want

By C.J. CASTILLO
Aug. 13, 2010 at 3:13 a.m.
Updated Aug. 14, 2010 at 3:14 a.m.


That innocent photo you took of your homemade cookies or empandas, then posted to Twitter may reveal more than you intended.

Perhaps all you wanted to do was show off your culinary skills to your friends and the hundreds of other people following your tweets. But did you know your photos can also reveal other things, like your location?

This week I was reading a piece in the New York Times about what happened to Adam Savage, one of the hosts of "MythBusters" and how he unknowingly broadcast his home location to the thousands of people following his Twitter account, @donttrythis.

It was innocent enough. Savage posted a photo of his vehicle, which was parked in front of his house. But embedded in that photo was a geotag, geographical information with latitude and longitude coordinates, which may also include altitude, distance or bearing.

Many mobile devices and digital cameras now have GPS capability, so when you take a photograph, location data is embedded.

Before you start freaking out and wondering how many people have been stalking you because of photos posted on Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere, stay calm and read on.

First things first, a geotag is not clearly visible, but is fairly easy to find. Geotags can be embedded in a website via meta tags, which are HTML codes. These codes are not clearly visible to readers, but are used to provide data to web browsers and search engines.

Some sites like Facebook do not keep geotag information on photos that are uploaded. And if you use a site like Flickr, you have the option of hiding geographical location. However, if you upload a photograph to your blog or personal website, geographical information may be available on that photo.

The article in The New York Times mentioned a website, ICanStalkU.com, which displays a "real-time stream of geotagged photos posted on Twitter." I tried visiting ICanStalkU.com as of this writing, and the site was down.

To disable the geotagging function on the iPhone, go to Settings, General, Location Services. Depending on the version and software version, there a few options here. You can either select the Off switch next to Camera or choose the option turn off Location Services. Keep in mind if you turn off Location Services, this will disable any applications that use location based services. If you are using a GPS-enabled phone or digital camera, check the manufacturer's instructions for disabling this feature.

The issue of geotagging has security experts concerned. The reason for their concern is that many people don't know how easy it is for their location to be discovered due to geotags.

Even if you take all measures to ensure your photos don't have geotag data, there's no telling if a friend or family member may post a photo or video of you or your home. So maybe have a talk with your friend before he posts that video of you re-enacting the dance sequence from "Napoleon Dynamite."

If case you were wondering, Adam Savage isn't too worried about that geotag information on his photo. He has since moved to a new home, but not because of this incident. He also said he has turned off the geotag feature on his phone. Current location of Savage discovered? Busted.

CJ Castillo is the interactivity editor for the Victoria Advocate. You can contact her at cjcastillo@vicad.com. Please send all correspondence c/o Victoria Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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