Photos from smartphones could pose safety risk

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There are countless social media sites with seemingly innocent photos of family, favorite hangouts, and vacations. But someone not so innocent may be able to track exact locations of all those snapshots.

“To a lot of people who would be surprising because all they see if this picture they don’t know what info is traveling with that picture,” University of Hawaii Information Security Officer Jodi Ito said.

Ito calls it a digital cookie trail.

“If you are posting pics of your child at daycare, where you ate lunch, at the beach, you are establishing a timeline and a pattern,” Ito said.

KHON2 found out first hand how easy it is to map my exact whereabouts. A free program on Ito’s laptop took a photo of the KHON2 newsroom and pinpointed the address.

“Shows Piikoi off of Ala Moana. That’s your newsroom,” Ito said.

Pictures taken from your smartphone or digital camera can contain a bundle of information like GPS coordinates of where a photo was taken, the date, and time.

This isn’t a new threat of privacy. Cybersecurity experts have been keeping a close eye on it for a number of years.

“It will tell me if I’m a stalker where the photo was taken and give me a map of where you hang out,” cyber safety expert Chris Duque said.

Leaked information that could be troubling if in the wrong hands. But you can guard against it by turning off the GPS on your smartphone.

“I would highly recommend when you get your phone look at the settings, privacy when to turn on and off location services that would be number one,” Duque said.

KHON2: “It’s as simple as that?”

Duque: “Yep. A couple of seconds to do that and it can maybe even save your life.”

Experts say to also check your privacy settings on social media sites every month since they can change without warning. Don’t post too much personal information online and password protect your cell phone and tablet devices.

KHON2: “Key advice is to check and double check your privacy settings.”

Ito: “Absolutely.”

Experts warn that using programs to “check-in” to locations on your smartphone, like Foursquare, does just the same thing to reveal exactly where you are and when.

Additional information:

KHON2 took a look at various social media sites regarding their privacy policy.

Facebook and Twitter say they remove the exchangeable image file (EXIF). Flickr gives you the option to hide it. The same goes for Google+.

When you upload photos in Google+, the Exif metadata (information stored inside of your image file) for each photo is also uploaded. The information that’s displayed along with your photo may include attributes such as camera model, exposure, ISO, aperture, focal length, location data and the time and date the photo was taken.

While viewing an individual photo in the lightbox view, click the “options button” below the photo and select “photo details” to see this information.

Show or hide GEO location

To change the location data setting of a particular album:

  1. Open any photo from the album in the lightbox.
  2. Click the Actions button.
  3. Select Photo details from the menu.
  4. Click on Show or hide location data for all photos in this album.

To change the default location data setting for newly uploaded photos:

  1. Click Profile on the left.
  2. Go to the Photos tab.
  3. Click Edit Profile.
  4. Check or uncheck the box next to Show photo geo location information in newly uploaded albums and photos.
  5. Click the Save button.

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