What is geotagging and how are your children at risk?

You don’t have to be a private investigator to find people online. If a paedophile or stalker sees your photo on any of the platforms, Google Earth could be used to find your house. They can then use many techniques to find the owner ‘s name, find you on Facebook, see who you are friends with and access even more photos of you and your family. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Every digital photo we take records the date, the exact location (GPS coordinates) it was taken and data about the actual camera settings. This is called Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF), which enables us to share lots of data in the form of a picture or image. For the more serious photographers, the EXIF data is key to see details about shutter speeds, focal length, aperture, IOS settings and metering modes. Professional printers also use the information to do better colour matching for the printed versions of your beautiful photo memories.

The days of taking your camera’s film to the photo lab to be processed and printed and having to wait in anticipation are long gone. There were moments of embarrassment, forgetting that you took ‘that’ photo and then there were all the ‘bloopers’ we had to pay for, only to throw them out. Luckily, you could take the photos and leave with both the negatives (film) and photos in hand.

“Your photos form part of this massive load of data and could be open for the world to see.”

What is geotagging?

Digital photos are geotagged, which is a process of storing latitude and longitude data inside the EXIF data of images. This information shares the photographer’s exact geographic location, which mapping services such as Google Earth can use to pinpoint it on a map. As parents, we must be very aware of the geotagging feature on the images we share, because strangers could find your favourite picnic spot, your child’s ballet class or your regular movie theatre. Geolocation metadata is linked to the device you use and your location settings. We must consider the right to privacy and protection of each person in the photo.

Craig Smith reported early in June 2015 that there are more than 75 million daily Instagram users and in June this year that number had grown to 300 million daily users. It is hard to fathom the number of images and data being shared on the digital highway. Your photos form part of this massive load of data and could be open for the world to see.

How to stay safe:

  1. There are ways to remove the EXIF data completely; however, if you are a serious photographer and like to edit your photos, you might want to keep the information to inform your editing decisions. If you want to share your photos on social media networks, it is safer to at least remove the GPS coordinates before you click the ‘share’ button. This can be done with various types of software.
  2. Before you take the pictures you plan on sharing, look for the ‘location’ icon on your phone and disable your location finder setting when you take photos – or take the photos in ‘Flight Mode’.
  3. This should also make you think twice before you share your location or ‘check in’ on Facebook again. It is like putting up a sign outside your house announcing: “I am at the airport for a business trip, my family is not with me and I am not home.”
  4. Remember that the images we share could become the property of the platform you use and it might be a good time to read the section about copyright again.
  5. It is also important to ensure that you and your kids are not ‘tagged’ in photos if you are not willing to have these shared with the world. You can untag yourself in Facebook by clicking on the drop-down arrow at the top right corner of the post.

There are other factors to consider when we post images of our kids to ensure their safety, protect their online reputations (no embarrassing photos of me, please mom!) and pictures of other children without the parents’ permission. Enjoy the moments caught on camera and share them responsibly.

Please share these tips with your friends and family (and everyone who spends time with your child), as it will benefit everyone.

Rianette Leibowitz, Cyber Safety & Digital Parenting Thought Leader, Brand South Africa Play Your Part Ambassador and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety

Passionate about sharing messages. TV & Radio Presenter, ChangeAgent for SaveTNet Cyber Safety, Accredited Public Relations Professional