Are Your Online Photos Giving Too Much Away?

Move over viruses. There’s a new e-threat in town. Known as a geotag, this bit of information is routinely embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones and digital cameras. Why the concern? Because a geotag reveals the exact longitude and latitude of the photo location. This means that if you take a picture at your home and share it via Internet or cell phone, you’re potentially telling everyone and anyone where you hang your hat. Now add to this photo a quaint message such as “see you all when we return from our three week expedition in the Himalayas,” and you’ve just handed a gold-engraved invitation to any would-be burglars engaged in online eavesdropping.

Both security experts and privacy advocates are spreading the word about the geotag risk. As they point out, the biggest problem is that geotag information isn’t visible to casual viewers. So a large slice of John Q. Public doesn’t even know what dangers lurk within many of their photos.

The geotag risk is becoming so pronounced that a group of academic researchers and independent Web security analysts have embarked on their own awareness-raising crusade. Called the ‘white hat hackers’, this dedicated group has been publishing studies and giving presentations at a variety of tech gatherings.  Their findings reveal widespread geotagged photos and videos on a sites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Craigslist. Not only do the pictures give away the location of homes, they also put the spotlight on children playing at home, pricy automobiles, computers, and flat-screen TV’s. Obviously, most people wouldn’t want this private information falling into the wrong hands.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

If you’re one of the thousands of people using a GPS-enabled smartphone, there are two ways to eliminate the geotag risk: Stop sharing your photos OR Disable the phone’s geotag function. Now before breathing that big sigh of relief, you should know that performing the latter isn’t as easy as it sounds. Switching off the geotag feature involves going through an ‘invisible’ menu that only the most tech savvy seem to know about. Once you discover the top secret location, be prepared. You’ll be required to be push your way through layer after layer of menus before finally hitting the jackpot – the Location setting. Then it’s just a matter of selecting ‘off’ or ‘don’t allow’. But once again, there’s a catch. Sometimes taking this step can disable ALL GPS functions.

Beware the Unknown Threat

Many times friends and visiting family members will feel the urge the snap a few photos in and around your home. While these pics make for great memories, they also pose the same potential risk that your personal photographs do. So make sure your shutterbug visitors are aware of the geotag issue, and that they take steps to address it. The last thing all of you want is a house picked clean by somebody with too much information.

If you’d like to learn more about geotags or other online issues, I’ll be delighted to help. And, of course, if you’d like to know more about getting that Laguna Beach home you’ve always wanted, I’m always available. As one of the area’s premier Coastal Property Experts, I can answer all of your questions and help you discover the numerous opportunities the Laguna Beach Real Estate market has to offer.

Feel free to contact me at 949.922.8490 or