Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He’s written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami’s NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times—and that’s just here at How-To Geek. Read more.
Modern smartphones (and many digital cameras) embed GPS coordinates in each photo they take. Yes, those photos you’re taking have location data embedded in them—at least by default. You may want to hide this information when sharing sensitive photos online.
Find the GPS Coordinates
GPS coordinates are stored as “metadata” embedded in the photo files themselves. All you have to do is view the file’s properties and look for it. It’s a bit like the potentially incriminating information that can be stored along with Microsoft Office documents or PDF files.
In Windows, all you have to do is right-click a picture file, select “Properties,” and then click the “Details” tab in the properties window. Look for the Latitude and Longitude coordinates under GPS.
In macOS, right-click the image file (or Control+click it), and select “Get Info.” You’ll see the Latitude and Longitude coordinates under the “More Info” section.
Sure, you may be able to see this information with an “EXIF viewer” application, but most operating systems have this feature built in.
GPS coordinates are not embedded in every single photo. The person who took the photo may have disabled this feature on their phone or manually removed the EXIF details afterwards. Many image-sharing services online—but not all of them—automatically strip the geolocation details for privacy reasons. If you don’t see these details, the’ve been stripped from (or never included in) the image file.
Match the Coordinates to a Location on a Map
These are standard GPS coordinates, so you just need to match them to a location on a map to find where the photo was actually taken. Many mapping services offer this feature—you can plug the coordinates straight into Google Maps, for example. Google offers instructions for properly formatting the coordinates for Google Maps.
Bear in mind that this is just metadata and could be faked, but it’s pretty rare that someone would bother to fake metadata instead of stripping it entirely. It’s also possible for the GPS location to be off a bit. A phone or digital camera may just have been using its last known location if it couldn’t get an up-to-date GPS signal while taking the photo.
How to Stop Embedding GPS Coordinates in Your Photos
If you want to disable adding GPS data entirely, you can go into your phone’s Camera app and disable the location setting. You can also remove the embedded EXIF data before sharing potentially sensitive photos. Tools are built directly into Windows, Mac OS X, and other operating systems for this—just follow our guide for more details.
On an iPhone, head to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera, and then select “Never” for the “Allow Location Access” option. The Camera app won’t have access to your location and won’t be able to embed it in photos.
On Android, this process varies from phone to phone. Different manufacturers include their own custom Camera apps, and even the Android 4.4 Camera app works differently than in Android 5.0. Dig around your camera app’s quick settings toggles or settings screen and look for an option that disables this feature—or just perform a quick web search to find out how to disable it on your phone and its camera app.
Bear in mind, though, that GPS coordinates can be really useful, too. For example, with a service like Google Photos, Yahoo! Flickr, or Apple iCloud Photo Library, you can organize your photos and view them according to where they were taken, making it really easy to browse photos taken on a particular vacation or at a favorite landmark. You can always strip out the location information on your own if you want to share a photo—that’s why so many services automatically remove the geolocation details when you share the photo with someone else.
The EXIF metadata stored along with photos also includes some other details. For example, you can see exactly which model of camera (or smartphone) the person used to take the photo. You can also examine exposure settings and other details. Most of these details aren’t considered anywhere near as sensitive as GPS location details—although professional photographers may want to keep their tricks and settings secret.
Los teléfonos inteligentes modernos (y muchas cámaras digitales) incorporan GPS coordenadas en cada foto que toman. Sí, esas fotos que estás tomando tienen datos de ubicación incrustados, al menos de forma predeterminada. Es posible que desee ocultar esta información cuando comparta fotos confidenciales en línea.
Encuentra las coordenadas GPS
Las coordenadas GPS se almacenan como “metadatos” incrustados en los propios archivos de fotos. Todo lo que tiene que hacer es ver las propiedades del archivo y buscarlo. Es un poco como la información potencialmente incriminatoria que se puede almacenar junto con los documentos de Microsoft Office o archivos PDF.
En Windows, todo lo que tienes que hacer es hacer clic derecho en un archivo de imagen, seleccionar “Propiedades” y luego hacer clic en la pestaña “Detalles” en la ventana de propiedades. Busque las coordenadas de latitud y longitud en GPS.
En macOS, haga clic con el botón derecho en el archivo de imagen (o Control + clic en él) y seleccione “Obtener información”. Verás las coordenadas de latitud y longitud en la sección “Más información”.
Claro, es posible que pueda ver esta información con una aplicación de “visor EXIF”, pero la mayoría de los sistemas operativos tienen esta función incorporada.
Las coordenadas GPS no están integradas en todas las fotos. La persona que tomó la foto puede haber desactivado esta función en su teléfono o haber eliminado manualmente los detalles EXIF posteriormente. Muchos servicios de intercambio de imágenes en línea, pero no todos, eliminan automáticamente los detalles de geolocalización por razones de privacidad. Si no ve estos detalles, significa que se eliminaron (o nunca se incluyeron) en el archivo de imagen.
Haga coincidir las coordenadas con una ubicación en un mapa
Estas son coordenadas GPS estándar, por lo que solo necesita hacerlas coincidir con una ubicación en un mapa para encontrar dónde se tomó la foto. Muchos servicios de mapas ofrecen esta función; por ejemplo, puede insertar las coordenadas directamente en Google Maps. Google ofrece instrucciones para formatear correctamente las coordenadas de Google Maps. .
Tenga en cuenta que estos son solo metadatos y podrían ser falsificados, pero es bastante raro que alguien se moleste en falsificar metadatos en lugar de eliminarlos por completo. También es posible que la ubicación del GPS se desvíe un poco. Es posible que un teléfono o una cámara digital hayan estado usando su última ubicación conocida si no pudo obtener una señal de GPS actualizada mientras toma la foto.
Cómo dejar de incrustar coordenadas GPS en sus fotos
Si desea deshabilitar la adición de datos GPS por completo, puede ir a la aplicación Cámara de su teléfono y deshabilitar la configuración de ubicación. Tú también puedes eliminar los datos EXIF incrustados antes de compartir fotos potencialmente confidenciales . Las herramientas están integradas directamente en Windows, Mac OS X y otros sistemas operativos para esto; simplemente siga nuestra guía para obtener más detalles.
En un iPhone, dirígete a Configuración> Intimidad > Servicios de ubicación> Cámara, y luego seleccione “Nunca” para la opción “Permitir acceso a la ubicación”. La aplicación Cámara no tendrá acceso a tu ubicación y no podrá insertarla en fotos.
En Android, este proceso varía de un teléfono a otro. Los diferentes fabricantes incluyen sus propias aplicaciones de cámara personalizadas, e incluso la aplicación de cámara de Android 4.4 funciona de manera diferente a la de Android 5.0. Explore los ajustes rápidos de la aplicación de la cámara o la pantalla de configuración y busque una opción que desactive esta función, o simplemente realice una búsqueda rápida en la web para averiguar cómo desactivarla en su teléfono y su aplicación de cámara.
Sin embargo, tenga en cuenta que las coordenadas GPS también pueden ser muy útiles. Por ejemplo, con un servicio como Google Photos, Yahoo! Flickr, o Apple iCloud Photo Library, puede organizar sus fotos y verlas según el lugar donde se tomaron, lo que facilita la búsqueda de fotos tomadas en unas vacaciones en particular o en un punto de referencia favorito. Siempre puede quitar la información de ubicación por su cuenta si desea compartir una foto; es por eso que tantos servicios eliminan automáticamente los detalles de geolocalización cuando comparte la foto con otra persona.
Los metadatos EXIF almacenados junto con las fotos también incluyen algunos otros detalles. Por ejemplo, puede ver exactamente qué modelo de cámara (o teléfono inteligente) usó la persona para tomar la foto. También puede examinar la configuración de exposición y otros detalles. La mayoría de estos detalles no se consideran tan sensibles como los detalles de la ubicación del GPS, aunque los fotógrafos profesionales pueden querer mantener en secreto sus trucos y configuraciones.
Find Someone Location By Social Media Images | Keep Your Locations Private हिन्दी मे
All about EXIF data, reverse image search
You have a photo, but you have no idea where it was taken. Is there any way you find where a picture was taken?
While there’s no 100% guarantee you’ll ever figure it out, there are a few things you can try to suss out the origins of your mystery snap.
Also, be sure to check out our YouTube channel where we posted a short video that goes through some of the stuff we talk about in this article.
EXIF Data Is Always The First Stop
EXIF data is a form of metadata that can be found in some JPEG and TIFF images. If the camera which took the picture has a GPS unit, then it will tag the image with the GPS coordinates of where the image was taken as part of that EXIF data.
Armed with these coordinates, all you have to do is put them into Google Maps, which will of course tell you where the photographer was standing when the photo was taken.
If that sounds too easy, that’s because it is. You’ll often find that a given image has no EXIF data at all. Despite the fact that smartphones are the most common source of photos and all have GPS sensors in them, popular services such as Facebook and Twitter strip EXIF data from images specifically to prevent privacy violations. So if your image is sourced from them this is going to be a dead end.
Incidentally, check out our article on how to remove EXIF data yourself, which also happens to show you how to view that data in the process. Alternatively, you can use an online EXIF viewer.
Search GPS Coordinates On Google Map/Street View
While finding the GPS coordinates is easy enough, you need to plug them into a map system in order to find the exact location. The good news is that Google Maps actually supports raw GPS coordinates.
Google has excellent instructions on how to do it, what format it should be in and how the method varies from one platform to the next. Just remember that GPS coordinates are not precise, at least not on civilian systems. So it may be out by a few meters.
So, if possible, activate Street View for the location in question and then look around to see if you can find the same spot the picture was taken from. Of course, if the location is indoors or somewhere that the Street View team can’t reach, this won’t help much.
Reverse Image Search Can Give You Context
There are various reverse image search services on the internet that use various fancy ways to find where on the net the source image can be found. That doesn’t necessarily tell you directly where the photo was taken, but if you are lucky it will lead you to additional information about the image.
For example, you may find tags, captions or contact information for those who run a site. Those data sources can then solve the mystery of where the photo was taken. Maybe.
If you’re looking for good tools to find where a picture was taken like this, we suggest either Google or TinEye.
Convert The Image Into Search Terms
Reverse image search doesn’t always do a good job, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost when trying to find the original source of an image. Look at your image and try to come up with search terms that describe it.
Then put these terms into Google and switch over to the image results section. If you’re lucky then you’ll get your original image in the results, given that it’s on the web in the first place.
If you don’t strike gold right away, get imaginative with your keywords and try different iterations. Sometimes the keywords that get you to the image you wanted may be a little left of field.
Check For Landmarks Or Other Clues
If the above methods don’t get you any closer to finding where a picture was taken, it might be time to put your serious detective hat on. Look carefully at the image for things that tie it to a specific time and place. By looking at clothing, objects, fashion and other relevant details of the image.
Look up these individual items on Google to learn where they come from or any other information that could help pin a photo’s origin. You can also use this method to get additional keywords for the previous method. At the very least this bit of basic sleuthing can narrow down the location to a specific country, region or city. Brand names, for example, can be very specific to particular places.
Ask The Internet For Help
If you’ve exhausted the easier methods of figuring out where a photo comes from, then there’s no shame in asking other people for help. Twitter, Facebook, forums and other places where people gather online.
Of course, you can’t just shout into the ether and hope someone gets back to you. The content of your image and your reasons for wanting the location will determine where you go for help. For example, if you know that an image was taken in Japan, but not where in Japan it was taken, you may post a question in a group that specialized in Japanese geography or tourism.
If you have a photo of an event or, for example, a band, you’ll want to post a question in a fan group. Basically, as for help among people who are likely to know the answer.
Elementary, My Dear Watson?
Finding the origin of a photo and determining where it was taken can be quick and easy or an exercise in extreme frustration. This means that at some point in your hunt you’ll have to think carefully how important it is to solve the puzzle.
If it’s just a matter of casual curiosity then it’s hardly worth scouring the internet for an answer. If however it’s really important, then the most important tip we can give you is to be patient. While you may not find the answers today, the web is always in flux. Information is being added all the time, so even if the photo is obscure or seemingly a total mystery, if you keep checking every now and then, the truth may finally be revealed.
Sydney Butler is a social scientist and technology fanatic who tries to understand how people and technology coexist. He has two decades of experience as a freelance computer technician and more than a decade as a technologies researcher and instructor. Sydney has been a professional technology writer for more than five years and covers topics such as VR, Gaming, Cyber security and Transhumanism. Read Sydney’s Full Bio
In the age of fake news it’s more important than ever to verify the information we receive. Image-altering apps can make this trickier.
But sometimes the fakery isn’t in the images themselves, but how they are used. News articles are sometimes illustrated by genuine pictures used out of context . The photo is real, but it doesn’t match the story.
Here’s how to check if a picture was taken in the place an article claims it’s from. Free image verification and mapping tools make it possible to locate (almost) any place on Earth.
Step one: Check if the image file has exif data
Most modern smartphones store the exif data from an image file. This data can tell you the device used to take the picture, the camera’s shutter speed and lens type, the date and time the picture was taken and, sometimes, even its location in the form of GPS coordinates.
To find an image’s exif data, right-click the photo and select either “properties” or “information”. If the GPS coordinates appear, simply type them into Google Maps to find the location.
But you often won’t be able to view an image’s exif data. Cameras only save this information when location or GPS services are enabled. Social media such as Facebook and Instagram also automatically strip exif data from images as they are uploaded, for privacy reasons. But there are other ways to check an image’s location.
Step two: Do a reverse image search
Google reverse image search
Google’s image search engine can find other websites that have published the image, and possibly its location, too. Google will also find similar photos, which can help you identify famous landmarks and tourist attractions.
Here are four ways to do a reverse image search on Google:
- Upload the image. If you can save the picture to your computer, upload it to the search box by clicking the camera icon, then selecting “upload an image” and “choose file”.
- Drag and drop. If you use the Chrome browser , click the image you want to search for and, holding the mouse button, drag the image into the search box.
- Image URL (address). If you can’t save an image to your computer, right-click it and select “copy image address”. You can then paste the URL into the search box.
- Download the extension. On Chrome and Firefox you can download an image search extension for Google. You then right-click a picture and select “Search image on Google”. A new tab will open with the results.
TinEye reverse image search
TinEye is an advanced image search engine. Like Google, it finds other web pages that have used the image, as well as similar images.
But TinEye’s filters take image-checking to another level. You can sort its search results to view the oldest, newest and “most changed” versions of a picture.
This makes it easy to find out when an image first appeared online, when it was last uploaded, and if it has been manipulated in between. You can often find the location of a picture even if it has been cropped, resized or edited.
There are two ways to use TinEye:
- Upload the image. Save the picture to your computer and upload it to the search box by clicking the arrow icon.
- Image URL (address). Right click the image and select “copy image address”. You can then paste the URL into the search box.
TinEye is great for doing reverse image searches on your mobile phone . But both tools should get you a step closer to checking the location of an image.
Step three: Look for visual clues
If you’re still having no luck it’s time to consider visual clues. Does the picture show a distinct building or mountain range? Can you identify a language from a visible billboard or shop sign?
Also look out for schools, hospitals, statues and towers. Even vehicle licence plates can reveal the location. Plug these details into Google – for example, by searching for GKB number plate – and see what comes up. Even if you can’t find the exact location, visual clues can help you narrow your search to a region, country or city.
Step four: Map it out
You’re pretty sure the photo was taken in a certain country or city. Now you can use mapping tools to find its exact location.
Wikimapia is a community mapping project that collects information about places on the globe. Anyone can contribute to the maps by tagging pictures and adding descriptions, categories and locations. Browsing through these could reveal the location of your image.
You can also filter the map using categories. Filters are available for stadiums, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and more. A search for “churches” in Windhoek will return all churches in the city. Click on each result and browse the map to see if the surroundings match your image.
You may find it useful to use more than one mapping tool. Once you’ve found a location in Wikimapia, Google Maps can help to identify structures and terrain. Its satellite imagery lets you zoom in on and rotate different views.
Google Street View shows ground level imagery of locations, in all directions. It’s then possible to measure distance and figure out where a picture was taken from.
Tips for geo-locating:
- Google is your friend. Sometimes a simple and seemingly obvious search like “ gold statue in Mexico ” can return the image you are looking for.
- Visual clues are important, but don’t investigate too much. You could spend hours sorting through possible locations that a reverse image search could find in seconds.
- If you can’t save a picture, screenshot it. Image search engines will still be able to pick it up.
- Be aware that images may be flipped to trick search engines.
- Also be aware of the foreshortening effect, in which an object can appear closer than it actually is because of the way the picture was angled.
- If you suspect a picture may have been taken in a certain location but still can’t verify it, contact someone who may have more information.
By: Waseem Patwegar
In this article, we will be taking a look at how to access the location information or the geotag data attached to a Photo and make use of this information to find where exactly the Photo was taken.
Please note that the information in this article is meant for educational purposes and should not be used to find the location information of Photos that you do not own or belong to others.
Find the Location Where a Photo Was Taken
In case you were not aware, the Cameras on almost all Smartphones have GPS function built right into them. The moment you take a photo, your camera records the GPS Coordinates of the location at which the photo was taken and tags this information to the photo.
This makes it easy for anyone to find out where a particular photo was taken. All that you need to do is to access the GPS data attached to a Photo and make use of this data on Google Maps or other websites to find out the location at which the photo was taken.
Where is the Location Information Stored on Photos?
The location information of a Photo shot with a Smartphone Camera is stored in the form of Latitude and Longitude Coordinates, pertaining to the location at which the photo was shot.
This information is stored in Exchangeable image file format (EXIF), along with a bunch of other data like the Camera aperture size, Shutter speed, Focal Length, ISO speed, Camera mode, etc.
Access Location Information Attached to a Photo
The first step would be to access the EXIF data attached to the Photo and see if it contains the information about the location at which the Photo was taken.
1. First, download the Photo to your Windows Computer or Mac
2. Next, right click on the Photo and then click on Properties (See image below)
3. On the next screen, make sure that you are on the Details tab and scroll down till you see a section labelled GPS. Under this section you will find the GPS coordinates (Latitude, Longitude) attached to the Photo (See image below)
The Latitude and Longitude information as you can see in the image above is available in the form of Degrees, Minutes and Seconds.
Use Google Maps to Find Where a Photo Was Taken
Unknown to many users, the search function in Google Maps also allows you to search for a place by entering its GPS coordinates.
1. Using the method as described above, get the Latitude and Longitude information attached to the Photo
2. Open Google Maps on your computer and enter the GPS Coordinates into the search bar of Google Maps and press the Enter key on your computer or click on the Search icon (See image below)
3. Within seconds, Google Maps will point the exact location , corresponding to the GPS coordinates that you just entered in the search bar (See image above).
Google Maps accepts coordinates in any of the following formats.
- Degrees, minutes, and seconds (DMS): 41°24’12.2″N 2°10’26.5″E
- Degrees and decimal minutes (DMM): 41 24.2028, 2 10.4418
- Decimal degrees (DD): 41.40338, 2.17403
Make sure that you enter the coordinates correctly, using the correct symbols for degrees, minutes and seconds. You can enter coordinates in decimal degrees, in case you are finding it difficult to enter the degree “°” symbol.
You can take a look at how to search for a place using Latitude and Longitude Coordinates in case you are still not clear about this part.
I learned that jpg, png, bmp and most image files contain headers and plain text in them. I decided to open a jpg file in Notepad and saw a bunch of information and I was wondering if there was a way to find out the origin of the computer it came from or some other information.
2 Answers 2
This is often how sought out individuals are found and detained because they take photos with their phones unaware the photo contains the location as well.
It all depends on the software/hardware/individual/etc taking the photo. Yes, its very possible, and its being done today.
With experience in the computer forensic field the short answer is Yes.
As other people said it’s called EXIF data. You can get information such as camera settings and lens used, time and date etc. On some newer camera models GPS tagging is available. Also all new smartphones have gps on them. Meaning when the photo is taken the GPS coordinates go in the EXIF data file format. You can’t track really but you can see where the photo was taken. There are a few free EXIF viewers such as the Opanda one. You can “play” with it to see what information you can get from different photos from different devices.
Not the answer you’re looking for? Browse other questions tagged privacy file-types tracking header or ask your own question.
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Below are some answers to common questions regarding Tweeting with your location. Learn about how toВ Tweet with your location.
What location information is attached to my Tweets?
- Enabling precise location allows you to selectively add location information to your Tweets. This feature is off by default and you will need to opt in to use it.В This allows Twitter to collect, store, and use your precise location, such as GPS information.
- Once you’ve enabled precise location, you will be able to attach a location (such as a city or neighborhood) of your choice to your Tweet. Simply tap the location marker while composing your Tweet, and select the location you wish to tag.
Note: Once you Tweet with a location, your next Tweet will automatically include a general location label. Learn how to turn location off at any time.
- Third-party applications or websites may let you Tweet with location, including your precise location. We ask these developers to clearly explain what information is being shared when you use their products to Tweet with location.В
What controls do I have when I attach location information to my Tweets?
Even after you enable Tweeting with your location, you have additional control over which Tweets (and what type of location information) is shared. With this in mind:
- Tweet location is off by default, and you will need to opt in to the service.
- You can turn Tweet location on or off at any time.В
- You can delete your past location data from displaying in your Tweets in a single place (see this article for step-by-step instructions).
- Be cautious and careful about the amount of information you share online. There may be some updates where you want to share your location (“The parade is starting now” or “A truck just spilled delicious candy all over the roadway!”), and some updates where you want to keep your location private. Just like you might not want to Tweet your home address, please be cautious when Tweeting from locations that you don’t want others to see.
- Remember that when you’re opted into Tweet location, suggested locations may be offered to you, but you can still choose not to share your location for individual Tweets (see this article for instructions).
- Please familiarize yourself with our general location settings and the settings of any applications and devices you Tweet with so that you are always aware of the information you share.
- Remember, once you post something online, itвЂ™s out there for others to see.
What location information is displayed?
- All geolocation information begins as a location (latitude and longitude), sent from your browser or device. Twitter won’t show any location information unless you’ve opted in to the feature, and have allowed your device or browser to transmit your coordinates to us.
- If you have chosen to attach location information to your Tweets, your selected location label is displayed underneath the text of the Tweet.
- On twitter.com, you can select a location label such as the name of a neighborhood or city.
- When you use the in-app camera on Twitter for iOS and Android to attach a photo or video to your TweetВ and toggle on the option to tag your precise location, that Tweet will include both the location label of your choice and your device’s precise location (latitude and longitude), which can be found via API. Your precise location may be more specific than the location label you select.В This is helpful when sharing on-the-ground moments.
Note:В The option to share your precise location from the in-app camera is currently available only on newer versions of Twitter for iOS (6.26 or later) and on newer versions of Twitter for Android (version 5.55 or later).В
- Application developers are required to be up-front and obvious about whether your exact coordinates, or just the place, will be included in your Tweet. When you Tweet from a third-party application or mobile device, it should be clear which type of data will be included in your Tweet.
Note: In some areas, you have the option to label your Tweet with a specific business, landmark, or point of interest. These places are sourced from Foursquare. If you see an issue with a place, please report it via FoursquareвЂ™s Help Center. If you believe that a specific Tweet is abusive, please report it to Twitter.
At first blush, it seems obvious that a picture could reveal your location. A picture of you standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge sensibly leads to the conclusion you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area when the photo was taken. But now that smartphones are quickly supplanting traditional digital cameras, and even traditional cameras now have wifi built in, many more pictures are finding their way onto the web, in places like Twitter, Flickr, Google+ and Tumblr. In a span of 10 days, popular photo social network Instagram added 10 million new users as a result of the release of its Android app and its acquisition by Facebook. And the location data hidden in these quick and candid pictures — even when your location isn’t as obvious as “standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge” — is becoming another easy way for anyone, including law enforcement, to figure out where you are.
Take the case of “w0rmer,” a member of an Anonymous offshoot called “CabinCr3w,” for example. According to the federal government (PDF), “w0rmer” broke into a number of different law enforcement databases and obtained a wealth of sensitive information. In a Twitter post, “w0rmer” provided a link to a website that contained the sensitive information as well as a picture of a woman (NSFW) posing with a sign taunting the authorities. Because the picture was taken with an iPhone 4, which contains a GPS device built in, the GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken was embedded into the picture’s EXIF metadata. The FBI was able to use the EXIF data to determine that the picture was taken at a house in Wantirna South, Australia.
The FBI tracked down other online references to “w0rmer,” with one website containing the name Higinio Ochoa. The feds took a look at Ochoa’s Facebook account, which detailed that his girlfriend was Australian. Combined with the EXIF metadata, the government believed they had corroborated the identity of “w0rmer” as Ochoa, and in turn arrested him.
Even for photos not taken with a smartphone and not embedded with GPS coordinates (for example, point and shoot or SLR cameras that do not geotag), it’s still possible for the police to get location information through EXIF metadata. You can upload a picture here and see the metadata stored in a picture for yourself. Contained within that metadata is the camera’s serial number. Armed with that information, the police can easily scour the internet for other pictures tagged with the same serial number. In Australia, a man whose camera was stolen was able to track it down using stolencamerafinder.com because the thief had taken a picture with the camera and uploaded it to Flickr, where he had listed his address. But even if the thief’s Flickr site didn’t contain his address, police could have subpoenaed Flickr – like law enforcement have attempted to do with Twitter – for information concerning a user’s temporarily assigned IP address, as well as session times and logs, to eventually determine where a person uploaded a picture from. All of which can be used to piece together a snapshot of not only your movements, but as in the case of “w0rmer,” potentially your identity. In the United States, police are being trained about the broader investigative (PDF) potential of this information.
It might be tempting to say the problem is overblown, because some social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, strip the metadata out of photos uploaded by their members. But not all do. Twitpic’s default is to use a picture’s location tag unless you opt out. Flickr gives you the option to hide a photo’s EXIF data, but many casual photographers tempted by the rapid growth of photo sharing may not understand what EXIF data is, and the implication of making it publicly available.
The bigger problem is that courts have been expanding the police’s right to search digital devices without a warrant under the “search incident to arrest” exception of the Fourth Amendment. While many of the cases involve warrantless searches of cell phones, there has been at least one case in California (PDF) where the police used the “search incident to arrest” exception to search a juvenile’s digital camera. And there are other reported incidents of photojournalists having their cameras confiscated and searched when covering political protests and rallies. If the cops have the physical camera (and thus the memory cards that store the photos), whatever scrubbing that happens when a photo is uploaded to the web is no obstacle.
So if you value your privacy, you should take steps to ensure the EXIF metadata in your pictures isn’t an easy way for anyone on the Internet to figure out your location. If you’re using a smartphone to take pictures, disable geotagging from your pictures. If you’re uploading your pictures to a website like Flickr or Twitpic that defaults to automatically include EXIF data and location information, take the steps to turn it off. And if you’re using a traditional SLR or point and shoot camera that doesn’t geotag, but does contain a breadth of EXIF data, the make sure you scrub its metadata before you upload it on the Internet. There are free online tools that will help you do precisely that. These simple steps will help ensure that the thousand words a picture describes doesn’t include your location.
- Images can contain the precise GPS coordinates for where a photo was taken
- Pictures on Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa Web Albums can contain location data
- Other services, like Facebook, TwitPic and Yfrog, strip that data
- Digital photo experts express concerns over privacy implications
- PhotoBucket.com Inc.
- Google Inc.
(CNN) — Skim through the photos on Flickr or Photobucket, and you’ll find pictures of cats pawing at living-room sofas, children playing in backyards and mothers gardening at home.
Dig a little deeper, and you can unearth the exact locations of many of those homes, embedded in data within the pictures.
Images often contain a bundle of information and various traces left by digital cameras or photo manipulation software.
This data, called Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF), is a key tool for many professionals. It can detail whether the photographer used a flash, which digital effects were applied to a picture and when the photo was taken.
EXIF can also contain the precise GPS coordinates for where a photo was taken. This information is readily accessible and can be plugged into software such as Google Maps — leading some security and photography experts to express concerns about amateurs unknowingly disclosing private information, such as the location of their home.
“What could go wrong with that?” Roger Thompson, the chief research officer for digital security firm AVG, said sarcastically.
Thomas Hawk, an active Flickr user and the former chief executive of competing photo site Zooomr, said EXIF is an important part of his archival process. But he has also used that data to track down someone who was harassing him online and managed to coerce an apology, he said.
“I don’t geotag any pictures to my house,” Hawk said on the phone last week. “I think it’s a huge concern. I think a lot of people don’t realize or recognize what’s in all of the EXIF data that they’re publishing.”
Most gadgets ignore the geotagging component of EXIF because relatively few cameras contain the GPS chips needed to tag them. However, many smartphones, such as those from Apple and Google’s Android system, let users employ this feature.
Apple’s and Google’s systems ask each user once or a few times for permission to access their location in order to provide additional services. If they click “OK” on that popup, every photo they take is tagged with GPS coordinates.
Smartphones are fast becoming the camera of choice for many people. Cameras on newer phones have come to rival dedicated point-and-shoots, and many smartphone owners carry them just about everywhere. Smartphone sales have increased 50 percent since last year, according to a report by research firm Gartner.
Millions of images are uploaded to Facebook using the company’s iPhone, Android and BlackBerry applications. The iPhone 3G is the most popular shooter among photographers on Yahoo’s Flickr website, according to a report on that site.
Judging by the abundance of pictures in Flickr’s database that include geolocation data in the EXIF, some smartphone owners aren’t thinking twice about opting into their devices’ GPS feature. Doing so can facilitate useful tools. For example, software like iPhoto and Picasa can group images by location and display them on a map.
But amateur photographers may not realize that this info stays with the image when it’s uploaded to Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums and some other photo-sharing services. (Facebook says it strips the EXIF data from all photos to protect its users’ privacy.)
Pictures uploaded to Photobucket by one woman show her children preparing lunch and bathing in a kitchen sink. The location data, which is displayed directly on each photo’s webpage, can be inputted into Google Maps to find a satellite image of her rural home in Edmond, Oklahoma. The woman couldn’t be reached for comment.
“We added EXIF data a few years ago at the request of our users,” Rob Newton, a spokesman for Photobucket, wrote in an e-mail. “To date, we have not received any complaints from users who were previously unaware of the GPS tagging feature.”
Displaying the GPS coordinates on the page can be disabled in a user’s settings panel, Newton noted.
However, anyone could still download the original file using a link on Photobucket and view the location info in Adobe’s Photoshop or in software included with every new Mac and Windows 7 computer.
Flickr’s and Picasa’s pages don’t show the coordinates by default. But the services similarly offer links to access the original files, which can contain EXIF.
“Having the ability to download the original version of photos on Flickr is an important feature for our members,” a Flickr spokeswoman wrote. “However, we help people maintain their privacy by stripping the EXIF data of an image from view on the site and making the default control option to keep this information private.”
Users who don’t want their photos tagged with GPS data can either disable the option on their cameras or run the images through software, such as Photoshop, that can remove the EXIF.
“We realize not everyone wants to share this information with others,” a Google spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. She notes how to disable GPS tagging, but added: “This is a popular Picasa feature that many people find useful.”
Some photo services, including Facebook, TwitPic and Yfrog, strip EXIF once a file is uploaded and don’t offer a way for users to access the original.
For Yfrog, the lack of EXIF is a byproduct of automatic image optimizations done by the system, not something designed specifically with privacy in mind, Mike Harkey, a spokesman for the ImageShack-owned Yfrog site, wrote in an e-mail.
While Facebook’s system compresses some photos, it doesn’t do so for every one.
“For those that we don’t compress, we still strip out EXIF data,” Facebook spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin wrote in an e-mail. “We do this since users can unintentionally leak sensitive information in EXIF data.”
Thompson, the security expert from AVG, commended these efforts.
“Chalk one up to Facebook for that one,” he said. “One of the alarming things is that every [Facebook] application wants to access your profile and your contacts and your photos. So if they weren’t stripping that [EXIF data], it would be particularly alarming.”