University of Southern California

Using Social Media Safely: Geotagging

Posted on by mbordas

When many digital cameras and smartphones snap a photo or record video, they append information about that photo or video to the digital file. This information, called exchangeable image file format (Exif) data, can include technical details about the camera and settings used, as well as information about the time, date, and location where the photo or video was taken.

This data can have beneficial uses. For example, photo album software can use the date tags to organize your pictures, or you may want to look at the location information on a photo to help you remember where it was taken.

However, the addition of location information to a photo or video file, called geotagging, could have serious consequences if those photos are posted online. For example, if you post a picture taken in your home, anyone with Exif-reading software (which is freely and readily available online) may be able to find the exact GPS coordinates of where you live. If you post the picture and later post an update indicating that you’re heading out to the movies, you may have just announced both the location of your home and the fact that it will likely be empty for some time.

Devices that append Exif data to media files generally do it by default.  A good security practice is to turn the geotagging feature off, and only re-enable it if you decide that geotagging is appropriate. See your device’s user documentation for information on disabling the geotagging feature.

There are a number of programs available online that can edit or remove Exif data from photos or videos you have already shot. Windows users can also edit Exif data by right clicking on an image and choosing Properties. In the Details tab, click Remove Properties and Personal Information.

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