The Perils of Photo Geotagging

I suppose like most people I didn’t know what geotagging was and at first it seemed really bad. I immediately thought of all the photos I had shared. But after finding out that my phone had never had location switched on, there was much relaxing of sphincters; possibly even a little curiosity. Once I started playing around with the location service I started to like it and began to think of ways that it could be implemented in positive ways and where I could use it to better my life.

Essentially geotagging is when a GPS enabled device attaches longitude and latitude coordinates to a photo, which means that this photo can be located on maps.

Is this my actual location? Or am I out somewhere hunting Pokémon – I mean going for a walk? If there were a group of shots it’d be easier to tell (or you could just ask! Rude much?) and that’s where the problem lies.
When you upload photos it is possible that a person can download them and, quite easily, find out where it was taken. Sounds scary? At first it seems very frightening; although most social media sites strip the data to save on file space (Schwartz 2013).
The risks of allowing geotagged photos to be broadcast include:

  • People being aware of when you are not home.
  • A child’s location being tracked.
  • Location of endangered animals being inadvertently tracked by tourists (Boyle 2015).

There are many benefits of geotagging as well, such as:

  • Patient tracking to demonstrate the spread of disease outbreak (Velasco, et al. 2014, p.23).
  • Creating, ‘a personal travel guide.’ (Humphreys & Liao 2011, p.412) to share with others.
  • Entertainment, such as sharing Geocache location finds.
  • Marking places of interest and importance, such as hard to find historic sites.

Finding out geotag information is easy enough. It’s a simple as looking at the properties of the file, in some instances a link is provided to exactly pin point the location on a map. There are also websites available (www.geoimgr.com/en/tool) that allow you to upload photos and remove or add geotags.

In dealing with geotag surveillance being prepared and aware is probably the best defense. The more mindful the user is of surveillance technologies such as these the less likely they will be caught out.

To find out how to switch geotagging on or off on my phone – Sony Experia Z5 – I had to hit the web as I had no idea if it was running. But now that I know how (and a handy little pin tells me), I am going to use it regularly; especially in one of my fields of interest, discovering street art.

How to links:

References
Boyle, D 2015, ‘Now poachers are using Facebook and Twitter to track down rare animals: Gangs scour social media for geo-tagged photos then use co-ordinates to find wildlife.’, retrieved 27/7/16, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3029812/Now-poachers-using-Facebook-Twitter-track-rare-animals-Gangs-scour-social-media-geo-tagged-photos-use-ordinates-wildlife.html#ixzz4FbxS4mvI>.

Humphreys, L, & Liao, T 2011, ‘Mobile Geotagging: Reexamining Our Interactions with Urban Space’, Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3, p. 407, Academic OneFile.

Schwartz, M 2013, ‘Facebook Stalking Fears: 6 Geotagging Facts’, retrieved 27/7/2016, <http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/facebook-stalking-fears-6-geotagging-facts/d/d-id/1111161?>.
Vamosi, R 2010, ‘What digital photos reveal about you: the geotagging data in mobile phone images lets strangers know exactly where you are’, PC World, 11, p. 39, General Reference Center Gold.

Velasco, E, Agheneza, T, Denecke, K, Kirchner, G, & Eckmanns, T 2014, ‘Social Media and Internet-Based Data in Global Systems for Public Health Surveillance: A Systematic Review’, Milbank Quarterly, 92, 1, pp. 7-33, Health Business Elite.