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Info Tied To Photos Posted Online Is Often Shockingly Accurate

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Prof. Trisha Litz talks with CBS4's Alan Gionet at Regis University. (credit: CBS)

Prof. Trisha Litz talks with CBS4′s Alan Gionet at Regis University. (credit: CBS)

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Gadgets are always on a lot of holiday shopping lists, especially smart phones and tablet devices. But they often have cameras that present privacy issues. CBS4′s Alan Gionet asks the Good Question “Are you giving away your location without knowing?”

Written by Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – “I mean that looks really close to this building,” Prof. Trisha Litz and I are looking at a map that shows where we took a photo.

It’s a shot we took of our video camera in her office as we did an interview with the computer science assistant professor at Regis University.

Maybe too close for many people.

“They’d be able to get that latitude, longitude, altitude map it in Google.”

That’s what we found when we went searching for hidden information you may be including in the pictures you post online.

“I didn’t even myself realize that I had this on my phone,” said Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Mark Techmeyer.

He pulled up a photo he shot of his arm after recent wrist surgery. Then he mapped it. It showed the hospital where he had the procedure done.

And it’s a new worry for law enforcement.

“They can go right in and look at the geo-tagging information on that see when it was taken, what day what time and where and it says wow, we’re all at the beach and it was taken in North Carolina an hour ago, that house is empty, let’s go hit it.”

That’s not the only worry. It’s possible stalkers could use some of the technology to track people’s movements.

“Someone can watch that for a very short period of time, and start to develop a pattern for that person. Locate where they live, where they work, who they hang out with, what their children look like.”

As technology evolves said Techmeyer, criminal opportunities evolve.

The good news about this one — if there is good news here — is that it’s not as widespread as it was only last year.

Many of the bigger websites have tightened the information that can be obtained through the pictures you post online. Some never included it.

We found sites like Facebook and Craigslist were stripping out the data that can show latitude and longitude once it’s interpreted by an easily obtainable add-on. The add-ons can look at the hidden data and come up with the coordinates.

Take those coordinates and map them in something like Google Maps and you can see where a photo was taken.

That’s provided the person taking the picture has their location services turned on in their phone.

The data became far more available after 2005, when cell phone makers began to meet requirements to have GPS location information on every phone. Ironically, it was for the benefit of law enforcement.

Say you are missing — the sheriff department might seek a warrant for the location data from your phone in an attempt to find you.

Phone makers added the geo-tagging function to photos. If it’s turned on, the code goes right along with your photo. Load that photo to the web and the info can go right up with it.

While many of the bigger sites and even blogs are deleting the info these days, we found some photo sharing services are still including it.

We used ImageShack to put a link up through a Facebook site.

The picture was a shot of our video camera in Trisha’s office.

“Because you’re using a third party application website that isn’t stripping it and just kind of bypassing the Facebook normal procedures,” said Litz.

It brought us right to her building.

“I’d say less 5 five feet, actually,” said Litz.

How can you protect yourself?

“You need to be cognizant of the story that you’re telling with your life,” said Techmeyer.

Additional Resources

Here is how you can turn off the location function on three popular phones, keeping the information from being added to your pictures.

If you have an iPhone:

Go to “Settings.”
Select “General.”
Select “Location Services.”
That should bring up a list.
Under “Camera,” turn it off.

With a Blackberry:
Begin with the “HomeScreen.”
Press “Menu.”
Choose “Options.”
Scroll down to the “Geotagging” setting and disable.

With an Android:
Open the camera application
Open the menu
Choose “Settings”
Set to “Off.”

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