The adage of “a picture’s worth a thousand words” is generally indicative of it’s story, feelings associated with it, identity, preservation of the past. Now that photos exist digitally moreso than on film the story becomes a book, specifically, an auto-biography. One written effortlessly not by the person who took it necessarily but by the information contained therein.
Metadata is the story. It’s not just data, it’s data about the data. (Allow your brain to hurt a little.) It’s the “who, what, where, when, & why” of data. The hidden information that is gleaned from digging apart and investigating media online. It’s not a story everyone can read but one that some are very good at. Companies often store metadata for targeting an audience or it is used by law enforcement to connect individuals to certain locations at certain times. How is it doing this?
Most of it, especially what is relevant to you reading this article right now, is due to your phone. Yep, that device that is almost always on is busy collecting information related to you…right…now. (Cue: “The call is coming from inside the house…”)
What I’d like to focus on more than anything is the metadata associated with images taken with your phone, the selfies, n00dz, snapchats, etc. you figured were safe and harmless hold a lot of information. Just how much information?
-The model of the phone.
-Copyright and contact information.
-Exposure information (shutter speed, f-stop, etc.)
-Keywords meant for SEO
Essentially, enough information that you need to be aware.
The bit which includes the Geo-Location or GPS capability is contained within something called EXIF data. EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format and is automatically attached to all photos taken with a mobile device. The easiest preventative method for stripping a photo of any GPS information is to have this turned off. Frankly, I think this should be turned off on a phone unless absolutely necessary (uber, for example). As for the remainder of the EXIF metadata it can fortunately be stripped. It will take uploading these images to a PC or Mac so try making it a habit to start utilizing photos in such a manner.
To view and remove EXIF data in Windows, first select the photo or photos you want to fix, right-click, and select “Properties”. Then click “Remove Properties and Personal Information” at the bottom of the properties dialog.
On the Remove Properties dialog, you can create a copy of your photos with “all possible properties” removed. Alternatively, you can click “remove the following properties from this file” and then check the boxes next to each item you want to delete.
On a Mac this unfortunately isn’t as easy (more reasons I dislike them) and requires 3rd party software. You can remove the location data from photos in Preview. Open your photo, select Tools > Show Inspector or press Command+I on your keyboard. Then, click the “GPS” tab, and “Remove Location Info” at the bottom. Otherwise you will want to get a program called ImageOptim ( https://imageoptim.com/ ) This program will immediately strip an image of all EXIF metadata including the Geo-Location.
Ultimately the concern here is the Geo-Location or GPS feature adding information to the EXIF data. The easiest solution is to disable this feature on your Android or iPhone.
Go to Settings > Location > turn off “save location” feature.
Go to Privacy > Location Services > select “off”.
There might be different methods depending on the model and current software on your smart phone however you can easily google how to disable this feature. Make sure to run a test of a photo first by taking one and running it through a program which interprets EXIF data to make sure it is no longer there. For those interested in what programs or apps do this you can contact me and I can provide a list. I feel that including it here would really only be possibly teaching one shitty person how to be even shittier.
Stay safe, friends.