Boston Public Library
Teens

I Know Where You Live

by Anna

Not so long ago there was no such thing as a digital camera, never mind a smart phone that could take pictures, send text messages, and call other people all in one handy little device.

Now it’s possible to have one device that can do everything for you just short of doing your dishes, or washing your laundry, and it’s quite common for people to take pictures and post them online. Everybody does it these days. So, what’s the harm? Plenty.

Your new digital camera or smart phone are GPS equipped, and thus, can embed a geotag to any photo you take on it. What does that mean? Say you take a picture of yourself in front of your brand new house, just eager to show it off. Then, you post that picture online to show your friends and family back home that you’ve moved out of the dumpy apartment building and into something nice. Well, you’re not just showing them where you live. You’re showing the whole world. You might not have labeled the picture with your home address, complete with the city and street names, but to those who know about geotagging, you’ve given them that information freely without even knowing it.

According to a New York Times article entitled “Web Photos That Reveal Secrets, Like Where You Live” (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Web-Photos-That-Reveal-nytimes-2375510549.html?x=0&.v=1), it’s not hard for someone in the know to do an internet search for geotaged photos that have text included which could say anything from “off to work” to “on vacation”. They’ll know where you live, and whether or not you’re home. Sounds inviting to theives doesn’t it?

Just bought a brand new car, didn’t you? Tricked it out something pretty awesome too, I bet. And you posted the picture online… you get the idea.

But, there is something you can do about it! If you know your way around your camera or your GPS enabled phone, you can disable the geotag ability. Just make sure you don’t entirely wipe out your GPS, which might be needed in an emergency when you’re trying to reach 911. Because it’s not an easy thing to do, there are several websites out there with instructions on how to do this, such as www.ICanStalkU.com which was created by security consultants from NWN Corporation and Mayhemic Labs in Waltham and Boston, Massachusetts.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to pictures you take and post online. Your friends and family may also take pictures of you or your things and post them on a website without a clue what they’re actually doing. And don’t forget the photos you take and email to your friends. If you haven’t disabled the geotagging on your phone or camera, they may upload that cute picture you took of your dog and tell the world what you’ve got and where you’re located.

It’s your choice whether or not you turn off the geotagging ability of your fancy photo-taking device, but either way, it’s wise to at least know what you could be setting yourself up for if you don’t.

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