Potential Risks Of Photos Taken Using A GPS Enabled Smart Phone – Updated

A GPS enabled smart phone can encode GPS coordinates in the metadata of every photo you take. While this can be a nice feature it can also expose...

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A friend sent me a link to a video that describes how you may be putting you and your kids at risk by taking photos using a smart phone. As you probably know most smart phones have a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver to track the phone’s location. This can be very helpful if you’re lost and need a map to find your way around an unfamiliar town. It also allows the phone to give you location-based services such as directions to things like hotels, restaurants and nearby businesses.

The downside to GPS is that if others get access to your phone along with its location data they can use that information against you. In particular, the GPS coordinates of the phone are often automatically embedded in the metadata of photos you take. This can be a good thing if you need to know exactly where a photo was taken. It can be a potentially bad thing if you are reposting your photos on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. The main worry here is that photos you take of your children or other sensitive subjects can then automatically be mapped with very high accuracy by anyone with access to the photo. Indeed, the video linked below shows how the photos of one woman’s child could be used to map the child’s bedroom, school, day care and even the area of the local park where she played. I’m sure most parents would agree that this isn’t information you’d want posted on-line.

My suggestion is to turn off GPS services entirely unless you suddenly find that you need directions in which case you can turn them back on. This will also likely save your batteries and extend your talk time and range. I also suggest that you review the photos you’ve already posted on-line and make sure that they are free of embedded GPS information. Tools to remove this information are available on the web. I hope to take up that subject in a future post. For now however, take a look at the video and pass the information along to your family and friends. You can view the video here:


Update March 12, 2012

The GPS meta data poses potentially grave risks to soldiers and the military. As seen here:

March 7 , 2012 – www.army.mil – Geotagging poses security risks

The military is warning soldiers of the risks of using location based services and social media to unwittingly give information to the adversary that could lead to loss of life and equipment.

“Warren cited a real-world example from 2007. When a new fleet of helicopters arrived with an aviation unit at a base in Iraq, some Soldiers took pictures on the flightline, he said. From the photos that were uploaded to the Internet, the enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches.”

It is important to realize that many point and shoot digital cameras now also include GPS. You may want to consider turning off these functions unless you really need to document where a photo was taken.


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