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Information Overload: Social media geotagging can tell others where you are

March 19, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 18, 2011 at 10:19 p.m.


By CJ CastilloLast year, I wrote a column about this topic, and with several friends asking about me about it recently, I thought it would be good to cover it again.

The topic is about photos taken on mobile phones and certain digital cameras. Many are not aware that photos taken from these devices can reveal your location to others. How can that be?

Many mobile phones and digital cameras have GPS capability. What this means is that when you take a photograph, location information, called a geotag, is embedded in your photograph. A geotag is geographical information that contains latitude and longitude coordinates.

A geotag is not clearly visible in a digital photograph, but is fairly easy to find. All someone has to do is extract the exchangeable image file format data from a photo. 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.

Websites like Facebook do not store or display geotag information on photos that are uploaded by users. Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, give you the option of hiding geographical location. But do keep in mind that if you upload a photograph to your blog or personal website, or on Twitter, geographical information may be available on that photo, if you have geotagging enabled on your camera or mobile phone.

Before you start getting all creeped out wondering if people are stalking you, at least you can get some comfort knowing there is a way to turn off this feature.

To disable the geotagging function on the iPhone, go to Settings, General, Location Services. Depending on the software version of your phone, there are a few options available. One option is to select the Off switch next to Camera feature, and this will disable geotagging on your photos. Or you could choose to turn off Location Services overall, but then this will disable any applications that use location based services, including any GPS functions on your iPhone. If you are using another type of GPS-enabled phone or digital camera, check the manufacturer's instructions for disabling this feature.

Since I last wrote about this topic, it seems that geotagging still has security experts concerned. The reason being that many are using mobile phones and digital cameras and have no idea their location can be discovered due to geotags. In this day and age of social networks where many are friending, updating, posting and tweeting, it pays to stay informed and know what exactly you are sharing with others.

CJ Castillo writes about geeky stuff 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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