Geotagging: Convenient or Creepy?

by Jordan Richardson on March 7, 2011

Technology has given us many wonderful things. From the Internet to Chuck Norris memes to robot dogs, the splendour of the little things that bleep in the night has blessed our species with innumerable ways to draw more convenience and fun to our lives.

It’s also made it easier to stalk people.

Geotagging is a rather well-known feature in GPS-equipped smart phones, like the iPhone. News stories have been making the rounds as of late, spreading public awareness of the “feature” that embeds location information in photos taken from smart phones. The “fun” begins when the picture is posted online, as a simple right-click can reveal a whole wealth of information pertaining to the location and time of the photo in question.

Geotagging, according to Wikipedia’s description, is “the process of adding geographical information metadata to various media.” It is a form of geospatial metadata. Geo-what?

Geospatial metadata is is a type of “data about data” that refers to a geographical location. Simple enough. What this means in the context of geotagging is that photos are “tagged” with information pertaining to latitude and longitude, altitude, distance, bearing, and even place names.

Geotagging can come in handy if you’re looking for pictures online of a particular location. You can zero in on the coordinates using a search engine and come up with photos nearby.

But it’s not all wine and roses in the world of geotagging. A study (PDF) from August of 2010 called “Cybercasing the Joint: On the Privacy Implications of Geo-tagging” revealed some of the dangers of this “convenience,” while a series of websites dedicated to “raising awareness about inadvertent information sharing” have drawn attention as of late (see this video).

Even with the general information available to the public about geotagging, many smart phone users are still unaware of the “feature” packed in to their flashy gear. On most phones, including the iPhone, the location software settings are defaulted to the On position. This means that location sharing is a built-in “feature” right out of the box.

Thankfully, there are some products out there that can help clear out some of that geospatial metadata, including the popular ExifCleaner and JPEG & PNG Stripper.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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