Do my smartphone pics show where I am?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on April 20, 2012 4:09 PM

Question

Is it true that if I post a picture from my smartphone on Facebook that it will show where I took the picture?

- Candice

Answer

This question was answered on April 20, 2012. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Facebook’s new Timeline makeover includes a Map section that can show where certain photographs were taken, so if you upload a picture and tag it with the location (from your smartphone or your computer) it will show the location in the post and it will appear as a pin on your Timeline Map.

In general, simply uploading a photo via your smartphone will not automatically include the exact location information which you can easily verify by clicking on the Map section on your Timeline.

If you want to make sure you can’t tag your location on any post from your mobile device, you can turn off Location Services for the Facebook mobile app on your phone.

It is true that depending upon your smartphone’s settings, an image may contain location information (specifically longitude and latitude) in what’s called the ‘metadata’.

Metadata is hidden information that is embedded in photographs that records a number of details.

Metadata is essentially data about the file itself that is common to many digital file formats including most of the images and documents that you generate.

In the case of photographic images, the metadata can contain any or all of the following:

- Date & Time the picture was taken and any subsequent edits

- Camera settings such as make, model, ISO speed, aperture, shutter speed, focus length, whether flash was used.

- Any software that was used to edit or touch up the photo

- General description of size, resolution and copyright info

- Longitude and latitude (but only on cameras that have a GPS, such as smartphones and some specialized digital cameras)

The list of potential data that can be mined from photographs is actually quite extensive and easily viewed on your computer by viewing the properties (right click on any image in Windows and click on the Details tab).

The location issue (or geotagging as it’s often called) came into play when smartphones that were equipped with both a GPS and a camera became popular. Depending upon your smartphone, the location data may be automatically captured on your photographs and available to anyone that knows how to view this hidden data.

While this could be of concern in some obvious situations, not all pictures taken by a smartphone and posted on the Internet contains all of this information.

Facebook, for instance, removes any of the user generated metadata when you upload images so your location info (if it exists) is automatically stripped from the image that the public can access (the original file that Facebook has on their internal servers, however, will still contain all of the original info).

Flickr (and most photo-sharing sites) also strips out metadata for any picture that it resizes and only allows metadata to be retained on originals for those with paid accounts, which means you have to pay and purposely want that info on their network (professional photographers may want this ability for copyright purposes).

The biggest risk for most smartphone users is if you take pictures with your GPS enabled smartphone and e-mail the picture from your phone to others, than the location information will generally be included.

The easiest way to eliminate location information from your smartphone photographs is to turn off the location services while you are taking the picture (airplane mode will do it).

On some smartphones, you can specifically turn off location services for all photographs, but have it remain in use for everything else. IPhone users can go into the Settings/General/Location Services to turn it off for the built-in camera or any third-party apps.

Android users can turn off location info by going to the ‘Camera app’ menu and making sure the ‘Store Location’ option is turned off.

Blackberry users can go into picture taking mode, press the menu button and choose ‘Options’ and set ‘Geotagging’ to disabled.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on April 20, 2012

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