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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.

 

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13 Comments

  1. Nadira Sinulingga August 29, 2016

    I like it when you said that it’s quite a relieved feeling when you know that all this time your photo geotag wasn’t turn on. It’s fascinating how actually we’re like being spied on through our series of photos (if we turn on the geotag) and if I’m not mistaken they just gain our data and information probably for market research for the future. The usage for the media like hyperlinks and embedded tweets are enough to catch my eyes. In my opinion, if you’re interested in street art, you should put one or two images about what preference of street art do you want to find through photo geotagging. Overall it was a good content!

    • Robert Williams August 29, 2016 — Post Author

      Hey Nadira,

      Thanks for the comments – that’s exactly what I plan to start doing, when I get another blog up and running it will be logging and geo-mapping my exploits with found street art.

  2. Ryan Bult August 27, 2016

    This is fantastic, great in tone, well written and great media integration. As someone who enjoys geotagging and attempts to make use of it to the fullest extent this was a refreshing look to the other side of the coin. The video however just undermines the rest of your blog in quality. It looks like you’ve exported it in some sort of portrait orientation. So you ended up with big black bars either side of what you’re actually showing it. Navigating video export settings is hard but a quick google to fix it would of put this post over the line to 100% professional grade.

    • Robert Williams August 28, 2016 — Post Author

      Hey Ryan, thanks for the comments, I think everyone looks at surveillance as negative but it really is a double edged sword; it can be sued for good or evil and it is only dependent on who is swinging it. I wasn’t that bothered with the black bars because it was recorded on my phone, but I’ll check out how to blur the edges or set a background for future videos.

  3. Justin August 18, 2016

    Very nice layout, scary subject. I might also suggest Losavio Et al 2015 if another good source, he has a few thoughts on geotagging and cyber-connectivity as well a good quote on the unlimited use that comes with it that presents danger. Overall things can be improved and tidy, but nothing really stands out as warranting fixing. You did provide a very simple statement of what geotagging is and that was enough. It had the good and the bad and what more is needed.

    • Robert Williams August 21, 2016 — Post Author

      Cheers for the feedback, Justin. I must admit I hate how embed tweets are aligned left, I did figure out a work around but… anyway. Every time I try to get fancy with layout everything goes a tad skew-wiffy. I tried wrapping text around images, but I don’t think I have the patience for it. I may change it before submitting though, lol!

  4. Isabel Taylor August 17, 2016

    This is a great, informative post as most of us would not be that informed about geotracking, especially using photos to do so! Got to admit, I giggled a bit at the ‘relaxing of sphincters’ part, which got me hooked into reading more. This piece was engaging and I love the readability of your points. The way you structured the pros and cons of geotracking made it easy to digest, especially with a topic that I was very uninformed in. Also I love how you included links and other mixed media that allowed the reader to upload photos and remove or add geotags. This inclusion of interactive elements made the post that much more engaging, and I think by letting the reader do their own geotracking it really drives your point across about how easy it is to geotrack. Other than that, this was a really solid post and I enjoyed it immensely. The only critical feedback I might put in is using tweets that aren’t just yours?? But that is more of a suggestion than a crticial feedback, but this blog was on point 🙂

    • Robert Williams August 19, 2016 — Post Author

      Hey Isabel,

      Thanks for the feedback. It is a tad self-serving that we had to include our own tweets; I thought I was following the guidelines, but I guess it doesn’t say anything about not using the thoughts of others!

  5. Brendan Williams August 16, 2016

    I’d be curious to knew just what Google’s definition of ‘evil’ is… might not be what we expect! Also, I your post reminded me of this, http://www.defensetech.org/2012/03/15/insurgents-used-cell-phone-geotags-to-destroy-ah-64s-in-iraq/?mobile=1, just took me a while to find it.

  6. Brendan williams August 9, 2016

    Thanks for a great overview Rob. It’s easy to forget how even the more (seemingly) innocuous features of the technology we use on a daily can be exploited, for good or evil. I enjoyed how you weighed some of the pros and cons, as it does highlight one the conundrums of this tech, in that it is (for many of us) concerning and poorly understood, and yet so damn useful! I’d be curious to know how much of this data is harvested by the likes of Google, Apple, etc, and how they plan to exploit it (i cant imagine that Google’s image reading/generating neural-network is just for giggles). Thanks again for a good read.

    • Robert Williams August 16, 2016 — Post Author

      Hey Brendan,

      Thanks for the feedback – I read something a while back about Google changing their business model, since it was acquired by Alphabet. But lucky for us it was just to clarify the ‘do no evil’ policy. hahaha. I’m sure the data is stored somewhere and we’re all screwed when it goes to the wrong people.

  7. Isaak Wyatt July 29, 2016

    From the very first sentence the reader feels connected with this blog post. I myself didn’t know what geotagging was either, so when the reader reads this, it feels as though they are discovering something new with you. Your explanations of what geotagging is also is clear and easy to understand.

    The media is integrated really well throughout the post, the video, along with the hyperlinks at the end of the post, is really beneficial as it allows the reader to engage with the post in a practical manner. The use of different sources, including academic and media, show that geotagging has been thoroughly researched, backing up anecdotal claims and stories. Overall it was an excellent, interesting and interactive read.

    • Robert Williams August 8, 2016 — Post Author

      Cheers for the positive feedback Isaak. Nothing bad to say about it? What about my horrifying nasally voice in the video? 🙂

      Have a good ‘un

      Rob

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