Location data

Here's a security and privacy tip that many of us forget about, yet is really easy to manage -- geo-location data in the pictures you take with your Android phone. Modern digital cameras that have a way to capture GPS data (that means your Android phone or tablet) can attach location data to pictures using the Exif (Exchangeable image file format) standard. The Exif standard attaches metadata tags to pictures, sounds, and video to keep track of things like song titles, video length, and camera model. It also has a slot for latitude and longitude coordinates from your GPS receiver. 

Attaching GPS metadata to the pictures you take can be handy, and there are reasons people would want to do it. Having the date, time and location embedded in a picture means never forgetting where and when you took it, and you can use services like Panoramio to place your pictures on a map overlay. Having a location fixed to an image has many legitimate, and fun, uses.

But many times we don't want someone else to know the precise GPS location of a picture we've taken. "Little Timmy's first day at summer camp" would make a great picture to share on Facebook or Google+, but do we want some stranger to know where little Timmy is sleeping this week? It's a scary world out there, full of people with bad intentions. Nobody will blame you if you err on the side of caution.

It matters, because it's not just apps that can access this data. Download a picture from your (or a friends) online albums somewhere. After you have it saved, right click it (Windows) and look at all the properties. If the picture is geo-tagged, you'll get GPS coordinates within a few feet of where the camera was when it was taken. There are even programs and websites that spit out the location data of images, and not everyone who uses these can be trusted. Thankfully, turning location tagging on and off is really easy.

You'll find a spot in the settings of your camera app (stock or a custom app from the Google Play store) that will say location or geo-tag. Poke around a bit, it's in different places depending on your phone's firmware or the app you're using, but it's there. When that setting is on, your GPS will turn on and the coordinates will be saved with the image data. When it's off, neither will happen.

Take control of these sorts of settings, and keep yourself safer on the Internet. 


Reader comments

Manage location data in the pictures you take [privacy and security]


What's with the old phone pictures? This is the second Nexus One on this page, and you had a DINC earlier. I think it's cool :) Are you guys using them again?

>"After you have it saved, right click it (Windows) and look at all the properties."

Or in Linux, open it with GQView/Geeqie and use view->Exif data. Or open it in Gwenview and use plugins->images->metadata.

Really, Android phones *should* have geotagging off by default. There is really no good reason to have it left on, unless you are photo journaling a vacation, or house shopping or something like that. It is a HUGE security/privacy risk that most people won't even understand; and it doesn't just threaten the privacy of the user, but also the people being photographed. It does seem to be off by default in HTC phones, which is good.

+1 Jerry for bringing attention to this.

Android DOES have geotagging off by default.

But I ALWAYS turn it on. There are LOTS of good reasons to have geotagging on, even for family photos. In fact the only good reason to turn it off is when you publish pictures on the web, and if they are that sensitive you probably shouldn't be publishing them period.

You can always strip it out, but you can't always put it back in.

If you think the location violates the privacy of people you photograph, then WHY are you sharing that photo?

My camera always has geo location on. When shooting with my 35mm, I always whipout my Nexus and shoot at least one shot of the same scene to geo-locate the location.

I have a zillion pictures in my photo-history with not a single clue about where they were taken. I wish I had geotagging years ago.

My point was that you and I both KNOW the tagging is there. And yes, WE can strip it off. Average Joe has no clue what it is or how it could be dangerous or how to remove it. They discover it and think it is "neat" and then completely forget it is there and post something to a public site. BAM!

The age we are in is really both great and terrifying. Geo-tagging can be EXTREMELY useful! But it opens security problems that never existed before.

"Little Timmy's first day at summer camp"

Why is it always Timmy?

Should we really be sending Timmy to camp in the first place? Lassie has to save Timmy because he fell down the well. Again? Lassie saves Timmy from the mountain lion... Lassie has to slip Timmy the answers to a math test... Lets face it, Timmy needs to stay home.

Not to worry, my phone protects my privacy by saving the longitude with the wrong sign, thus misplacing my pictures to a location on the other side of the Greenwich meridian, in the Osh province of Kyrgyzstan or somewhere in West China.

Im using a stock Sprint Epic 4G and i leave GPS turned off and the option in my camera settings is set to off. Why on the main gallery screen is it showing the address where a picture was taken?