Smartphone Privacy Risks

Can criminals determine your location from photos you snap with your smartphone and post online?

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It’s true, though it’s less common than it was few years ago. 

Let’s take a look at a popular warning circulating in 2013:

cell-safetyWARNING!!!! If you take photos with your cell phone

“Warning” If you, your kids or grand kids take pics from your phone—WATCH THIS!

This is truly alarming – please take the time to watch. At the end they’ll tell you how to set your phone so you don’t run this risk!


I want everyone of you to watch this and then be sure to share with all your family and friends.

It’s REALLY important info, about what your posting things on your cell phones can do TO YOU!!!

Too much technology out there these days so beware………..


If you have children or grandchildren you NEED to watch this. I had no idea this could happen from taking pictures on the blackberry or cell phone. It’s scary.

The warning above links to the video embedded below. That video is a few years old and is now somewhat outdated.

Smartphones (and some standalone cameras) use GPS technology to record the location where photos are taken. This “metadata” is stored in the image file and is designed to help users catalog and track their library of images. This information can also accompany images shared online, allowing anyone to determine the photos’ locations.

Larry Pesce, co-founder of the now-defunct “I Can Stalk U” – a project designed to alert people to the potential dangers of geotagging – told Digital Trends, “If you post a photo tagged somewhere on a hiking trail, your stalker might know where you are for a visit. On the flip side, other folks know where you are not: at home, and now would be a perfect time to rob your house (because you’ve also likely posted photos of your new flat screen TV at your house, also with geotags).”

Most Social Sites Remove Metadata
Though the warnings regarding the dangers of photo geotagging are dire and urgent, most social media sites now strip away metadata from photos posted online. These include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Flickr. Of the major social media sites, only Google+, which has a large population of photographers who presumably wish to preserve metadata tags, leaves metadata intact. Many photographers have found that their images on Facebook no longer contain valuable metadata tags, such as copyright info or links to online stores.

September 2010 Case
In September 2010, it was widely reported that a crime ring used Facebook to track victims and burglarize them in New Hampshire. Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine refuted many of the details of this story when contacted the detective involved in the case. Jarvis was informed that “one or two of the suspects were Facebook friends with the respective homeowners… The information was only available to friends and the Facebook Places feature was NOT a part of this. And finally my advice to Facebook users is carefully pick your friends and watch what you post.”

Friedland Survey
A 2011 survey conducted by UK home security firm Friedland found that 78% of ex-burglars believed that social media sites were being used by criminals to target properties. 74% also found that Google Street View was being used as well. This was when metadata was commonly found in images posted on social media sites.

Not just geotagging
GPS data included in images is only one way in which your privacy can be stalked and invaded using photos posted online. Accepting friend requests from strangers, for example, and then posting that you are on vacation can pose potential risks by announcing that you are not at home. Even photos that contain no metadata may include landmarks which would make tracking down the location of an image easy, such as a nearby park or mall.

Checking in on Foursquare and having it linked to your Twitter account can announce to the world where you are at any given moment. While some may have no problem with this, others may want to exercise caution while using such services.

Mousing over this "pin" icon in Facebook messaging reveals a map of the sender's location.

Mousing over this “pin” icon in Facebook messaging reveals a map of the sender’s location.

Facebook Mobile Chat
While Facebook now strips away geotagging of photos, chatting via its mobile app still presents a security risk. This app may include your location whenever you use the messaging feature. Many users are unaware that every message they send via the mobile app includes a map of their exact location. You can turn this off with the location services setting on your phone. You can determine if this feature is turned on if you see a small location pin icon next to the time in the messaging window (see image to the right).

How to Protect Yourself

  • You can turn off geotagging, which varies from phone to phone. Typically it’s under “security” or “location services.”
  • For existing photos, there are metadata removal tools which strip away geotagging and other possible personal information.
  • Be careful what you post online, and use caution when accepting friend requests.
  • Review your privacy settings.

News Report

This 2010 news report summarizes the potential risks of geotagging features found in many smartphones. This video has been heavily circulated in 2013, and no longer applies to many social media websites, which now strip away metadata.

Bottom Line
Most social sites now strip away geotagging, but it is still a good idea to be vigilant regarding online security. Geotagging can be a problem, but other dangers also exist, such as chatting with strangers via the Facebook mobile app with location services turned on. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers, and don’t post anything that you would be uncomfortable showing to strangers.


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