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Online predators can determine where posted photos and videos were shot

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July 25, 2010

People can be tracked through videos and images posted online (Image: Tommy Wong)

People can be tracked through videos and images posted online (Image: Tommy Wong)

Before you proudly go posting photos of your Ming vase online, you should be aware that computer-savvy burglars can likely use that photo to find out where you live. The same goes for photos or videos of your kids, yourself, or anything else that you don’t want strangers knowing how to locate. The practice of tracking people via their posted images is an example of “cybercasing”, and is possible because many digital cameras and smart phones, including the iPhone, automatically geotag their images by embedding the longitude and latitude at which they were taken. Even when uploaded to a website, the images still retain this information. By plugging the coordinates into a service like Google Street View, getting an address or an identifying landmark is entirely possible.

This disturbing fact was recently announced in a report published by the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI). Researchers Gerald Friedland and Robin Sommer wrote that they successfully obtained the home addresses of people who had posted photos in ads on Craigslist, despite those people having opted to keep their addresses hidden in their postings.

Creepier still, they were also able to obtain addresses where home videos of children had been shot, by searching under the tag “kids” on YouTube. They then proceeded to search for recent videos from those same users, that had been shot over 1,000 miles away. Within 15 minutes, they were able to determine that 13 of these video posters were likely still away on vacation, leaving their homes available for burglary.

While iPhones do geotag by default, it is possible to turn the feature off. The folks over at I Can Stalk U (they’re against stalking, not in favor of it) can show you how. For other phones and cameras, a Googling or a look through your user's manual should tell you what you need to know.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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13 Comments

I did not know that. Thanks for the tips, I got me some burglarin' to do.

Dennis Roberts
25th July, 2010 @ 06:23 pm PDT

Another consequence of the tendency to overshare on the web. People really need to learn that you can't post everything about yourself, including photos. That's especially relevant in the age of Facebook and other instant social networks.

Gadgeteer
25th July, 2010 @ 08:59 pm PDT

That's highly irresponsible of Apple to make this feature active by default. I think a lawsuit is in order! Luckily I don't own any Apple products, so I don't have to worry about this! My Cellphone does geotagging too, but I have to activate it (it is not on by default) and when I take a picture, I need to specifically select GPS-Photo...Not Appl's way which is inherently insecure. It just goes to show that Apple certainly does not care about the welfare of their customers. As long as they can suck the money out of their customer's pockets, they do not care what happens to them...Like PT Barnum said...a sucker is born every minute...that's why there are so many mactard fanboise

Ed
26th July, 2010 @ 03:51 pm PDT

The data inside the photos is in a format called EXIF - you can download tools such as "exiftool" which will print this stuff out for you... and yes - you'd be amazed at how much stuff is in there, and how cool it is when you're doing "forensics stuff" relating to other peoples photos :-)

christopher
26th July, 2010 @ 08:32 pm PDT

I am having a "shit fit" of insanity based anger here...

When was the day that taking a photo - ceased to be just just taking a F-ING picture?

What are these dickheads that make these things doing, by encoding all of this other data into the bloody F-ING photos?

On one hand I can see the sense in doing this - especially if you are doing mapping or touring or other location based photography - the combined GPS data in the photo could prove very useful;

But for 99.99% of the time, most people are "just taking photos"....

I know some people who are a bit neurotic and do not use word processors - they use manual type writers..... you know, keys, long little levers, metal letter stamps and an inked ribbon.... because they are uncomfortable about their entire life being a silicon wafers thickness away from the world.

And I also am irritable about the fact that these functions are built in, that you are not told about it, and you can't switch it off........

It's like this covert opps on your own life................

I think I need a good cup of tea and a lie down.

Mr Stiffy
26th July, 2010 @ 10:18 pm PDT

I'm wondering how I find out if my old Olympus digital camera does this. I've read the manual. There isn't any mention of it. but I still wonder.

Questor Thews
27th July, 2010 @ 11:24 am PDT

Couple of replies, (I'm the co-creator of ICanStalkU)

Questor Thews: While your Olympus does EXIF data (Of which Geo-Tags of a part of) unless you have a GPS attached to it, it is unlikely that it will geo-tag photos.

Ed: This isn't on "by default" per se. When you activate the camera application for the first time, the iPhone will ask you "Do you want this to access your GPS?" and you can say "Yes" or "No" - It doesn't explain what this means though.

Innismir
28th July, 2010 @ 02:15 pm PDT

People who rape children will do ANYTHING to get at their intended victims. This goes for pimps, traffickers, and child molesters. This is just another added safety precaution we have to take in our ever growing online social world we have going on. There are som may people involved with the raping of children, who knows who's looking at you r stuff online...better safe than sorry and I am delighted about this article to help protect my kids.

Dawn E. Worswick
29th July, 2010 @ 01:02 pm PDT

One more good reason to reject Iphone & Android devices. Apple & Google entered a commercial trend, in wich they both want to know who you are, what you do, where you are, what you hear, ... I just cant stand that. I want to keep my thought private!

My smartphones works with Linux or UIQ. And no editor or builder can lock me into its links.

---

Une bonne raison supplémentaire de refuser les produits Iphone & Android. Ils ont commencé une logique commerciale dans laquelle Apple & Google veulent tous les deux contrôler vos informations personnelles à des fins économiques. Qui vous êtes, ce que vous faites, où vous êtes, ce que vous entendez... C'est juste insupportable. Mes pensées m'appartiennent et gare à qui les touche!

Mes smartphones fonctionnent sous Linux ou UIQ et aucun fabriquant ou éditeur ne peut me bloquer dans son réseau commercial.

Ariel Dahan
7th September, 2010 @ 02:38 am PDT

Now - if certain terrorists that take and post pictures would update their cameras....

phydeaux
11th October, 2010 @ 09:03 pm PDT

Bad guys can be tracked too.

At some point the background can be correlated across all of the various images from all sources, to do the same thing w/o any other data.

All you need is upload software that strips the information.

Charles Barnard
3rd January, 2012 @ 07:51 pm PST

This article is factual for some websites when you post, but sites such as Facebook will resize the image and save into different compression formats.

This will over right the EXIF and GEO Tagging information. Just to keep people from completely freaking out. Google Plus is also doing this with Google new picture format (WebP). Changing these images will remove this data.

Geo Tagging has been around for a number of years and it was developed to help user track were they are taking their photos. This is not a feature if your camera doesn't have GPS. This feature is more on cellphones then other cameras. High end DSLR cameras can be found with these features also.

JeffS
22nd August, 2013 @ 09:38 am PDT

There's a helpful iOS app that can quickly show you which of your photos include the location while you scroll through them. It can also remove the metadata

It's called Photo Investigator for iPad and iPhone: http://www.a-r-studios.com/pi

JHigg
14th September, 2013 @ 05:38 pm PDT
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