Are digital photos a danger? CVCC tech expert says problem is real [Hickory Daily Record, N.C.]
(Hickory Daily Record (NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 20--HICKORY, N.C. -- People post all sorts of warnings to Facebook, but one on how private information can be gleaned from smartphone photos posted on social website s is alarming .
"This problem is real," said Tom Foss, Director of Information Assurance at Catawba Valley Community College. "Almost all smartphones have GPS built into the phone. When you take a picture, your phone automatically captures location and other details about the photo."
Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system comprised of 24 satellites, which were placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense, according to Garmin, a company that makes and sells navigational devices.
Foss calls the information contained in a photo EXIF data, which stands for Exchangeable Image File. According to exifdata.com [http://exifdata.com/], information is stored on things like shutter speed, exposure compensation, and more. It also can include the date and time the image was taken, and even GPS information so you can easily see where the images were taken.
The alert on Facebook came from a n NBC affiliate, 41 Action News in Kansas City , M o., in Nov ember 2010 as part of the station's Sweeps Week reporting, according to Brooke Givens. Givens works in the station's newsroom. Neither the reporter nor the producer of the story is employed by the station any longer, she said.
The video that started all the fuss
"Technology allows strangers to cherry-pick pictures posted all over the web and then find a home, work, or even school of that person in the pic," said Russ Ptacek, reporter of the news report.
The station gave a station employee a smartphone who took pictures of her daughter to see how "threatening a seemingly innocent snapshot could be, once loaded online." They then searched sites like Twitter, Facebook, Craigslist and Photobucket looking for photos of local people.
"We found a menu of nearby children, and with the click of a button, their locations," said Ptacek.
Comments on Facebook and You Tube -- where the report is still viewable -- decry the technology as being old and not being new, according to one You Tube commenter.
"But, if you were not aware that it can occur, and did not know that there are simple solutions to what could be a problem, perhaps it is news," said Foss.
Foss certainly feels it is potentially bad.
"You can right-click on a photo online and get not only the photo details," he said, "but a Google map that shows right where the photo was taken."
He said that not only smartphones, but digital cameras -- including point-and-shoot ones -- record the same data. More and more digital cameras are equipped with GPS.
What can you do about it?
Foss gives five simple suggestions for parents, adults and children to follow to t urn off a smartphone 's G PS for photos.
With an iPhone , open the Settings folder, click on Privacy and then Location Services. A list opened up for every software program that has GPS as an option. It was simple to move the camera setting from on to off.
With an Android phones , you can do the same thing to turn off GPS for photos. Foss said he did not know the procedure to turn off GPS for photos on Microsoft Windows, and said owners of those devices should check with where the phone was purchased.
Be careful what you post photo-wise.
If you have already posted photos with the GPS activated, take those photos down. Make sure for subsequent posts GPS is deactivated.
Don't tag a photo
Many online photo software products as well as software a person might install on a PC now are able to tag a photo using facial recognition. When you identify one picture of a person, all subsequent photos are tagged with the name as well. The idea is you search for that name, and the search populates all of the photos in your cache.
If you use Snapfish.com [http://Snapfish.com/] or Picasa (a Google product) for your photo organization -- make sure not to tag your photos. Check with other systems you might be using as well.
Facebook and other social media websites also provide tagging with names as a feature. Foss advises against it.
Scrub the EXIF data from your photos before posting online.
According to Foss, he found a number of companies online that provide free software that will basically erase the EXIF data from a digital photograph.
You can review several programs by going to www.diggfreeware.com [http://www.diggfreeware.com/] and clicking on number 11: Five free utilities to remove EXIF/IPTC/XMP metadata from images. Foss said he cannot vouch for any of the programs.
Take responsibility for what you post to the internet.
Foss said that posting a picture of you standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is better done after you've returned. Otherwise, some opportunist could easily deduce that you are not in the United States, and your home is vulnerable. Especially with the time stamp.
Use common sense in what you include in the frame of your photo -- such as clues to addresses, street names, and other identifying landmarks.
Set your privacy restrictions to family only on Facebook.
Foss uses Rich Site Summaries (RSS) feeds to keep track of many security and online concerns, and said he is unaware of any broadcasts by law enforcement that correlate information from digital photos with crimes.
When asked if alerting the public regarding information tagged to digital photos would be opening up Pandora's Box, he said he would rather inform the public than not.
"You've got to strike a balance with overreacting to a potential problem, and not doing anything about it. It's better to keep something bad from happening, than to report about it after the fact," he said.
One area of concern for Foss was that parents act wisely regarding their children and use of the internet -- especially Facebook and Twitter.
"I gave a presentation to third -- , fourth -- and fifth -- graders last year on the internet, and asked how many of my audience had a Facebook account. Just about all the students raised their hand. When I said 'You are not old enough to have an account according to Facebook regulations,' they said they lied about their age," said Foss.
The difficulty with parents checking to see if their children have social media accounts is that the children don't use their own name. Plus , they shut down and create new accounts often.
Foss said he has two Facebook accounts. One is personal and one is for his work. He said he posts nothing to his Facebook account -- ever.
Aware of smartphone photo danger? Go to the HDR's Facebook page and tell us.
-- 2010 broadcast from Channel 41 NBC affiliate: http://youtu.be/N2vARzvWxwY [http://www.hickoryrecord.com/content/tncms/live/%20http:/youtu.be/N2vARzvWxwY]
--Free scrubbing software, go to www.diggfreeware.com [http://www.diggfreeware.com/].
(c)2013 the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.)
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