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Photos posted online could have hidden metadata that could put you in danger

Posted at 7:04 AM, Mar 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-06 09:04:03-05

PHOENIX — As cameras and smartphones become more advanced, posting a photo online could be revealing much more than you might expect.

"Hidden" metadata in photos can reveal the type of camera that was used, the direction the lens was pointing and the exact GPS coordinates where a photo was taken. iPhone and Android phones can save this data and, depending on the website or service, share it when uploading online for anyone to access.

"It's just important to be aware of what we're doing and go into it eyes wide open," said John Wittwer, an attorney with The Cavanagh Law Firm who deals with cases involving privacy and cybersecurity.

"If you're taking a picture in your house and it's got the geolocation of your house, and you're putting [up] a social media post that says, 'here I am at home just hanging out,' well, now somebody knows where you live."

Popular social media services including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram strip out revealing metadata when a photo is uploaded. Other websites, including Flickr and 500px, preserve at least some of the data. Anyone can then download a photo and view the metadata using free software or websites, like this one.

Wittwer said users should know exactly what data they're posting on a website or service before uploading.

"When you share something online, it's potentially there forever," he said.

iPhones allow users to disable photo geotagging by disabling "location services" for the "camera" app. Depending on the phone, Android users can disable geotagging through privacy settings.

What about messaging?

ABC15 sent a photo through iMessage to another iPhone user and the metadata, including GPS coordinates, was preserved.

Sending the photo as a regular text/MMS message, however, removed the metadata.