Can you track someone’s location from a photo you post on social media?
Can someone track your location using codes hidden inside the photos you upload online?
Is there any truth to this or more scare tactics nonsense?
The photo problem
When we snap photos with our phones and cameras, bits of info are automatically added to the image which is known as Metadata.
Most of these bits of info are immaterial to most people. These include info about which camera was used to snap the image and the ISO setting and more stuff that photo editors may need.
However, what is also being added are the GPS coordinates so that you are able to trace back where the photo was taken which is kinda neat.
So now you have your photo complete with the GPS coordinates, and the concern is that if you upload it to social media you are unintentionally revealing your exact location.
The danger is obvious
All a scammer needs to do is grab a couple of your images and use a technique called Social Engineering to try tricking you into revealing your sensitive info.
We would all hang up on a scammer who says: “Hey I am from your bank.”
Yeah right. Bye.
But what if the caller has details that technically only your bank would know about?
What is the called says something like: “we noticed that you that there is fraud on your credit card and it probably happened when you ate _____ restaurant and when you were at a _____ store?
Since you didn’t share the name of these places, this lands a lot of credibility and authority and if they happen to catch you when you are not focused, they would say something banky like “in order for us to proceed, please confirm your address and the last 4 digits of your social security number”
Obviously, an even worse situation is if you have a stalker who is getting your GPS location from the images you share so they work out your routines.
So this sounds serious but I still call bull***t.
While it is 100% true that metadata can contain a lot of personal info including your location, what “they” are leaving out is that Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others actually remove all of that info from your images before the image is posted publicly.
So by the time the scammers see your photo, there are no GPS coordinates.
Should just upload without any worries?
Remember when you upload your original image to these social media platforms, it contains all this metadata including your location before they remove it.
You have to ask yourself what does Twitter or Facebook do with this info? Do they destroy it or keep it while removing it from the image? Are you comfortable with them having that info?
It goes without saying that if you give away your location by checking-in or snapping a pic of the restaurant name, that’s a different story.
But should you be worried about the scammers grabbing your metadata?
Not really. The info isn’t there.
How can you confirm that what I am saying is correct and that social media and other websites actually remove your personal info?
Simply download EXIF Viewer Pro Chrome Extension or something similar available for both Chrome and Firefox.
To be clear, not every site works this way. Some sites like Flickr keep your metadata. So be aware that this can happen
How can you remove your info from your photos?
Obviously, the first option is to turn off geotagging your photos on your phone. If you go to your camera’s setting there will be an option to enable/disable Save Location.
But I’ll be honest, I kinda like that feature. I like being able to see my own photos and where I snapped them. But I just don’t want others to.
How to remove personal info from your photos on your computer:
- Transfer all my photos from my phone to my computer.
- Right-click on the photo file and click on Properties.
- Click on the Details tab.
Here you will see the metadata that is linked to you the photo.
Click on the option at the bottom to “remove properties and personal information.”
I then choose to remove all personal info.
Now the image is ready to be uploaded.
How to remove personal info from your photos on your phone:
- Find the photo you want to upload to social media
- Open the image
- Take a screenshot of it.
- Edit out the stuff on the top and bottom of the image
- Upload the screenshot and upload it.
Now check out how you can Track your bike, kids, and everything else with evolving GPS technology