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Geotagging

The method of adding location information to digital media, such as photos and text messages

Geotagging is the method of adding location information to digital media, such as photos and text messages. Known as the geotag, this location information reveals the longitude and latitude co-ordinates, as well as city and state, of the exact location where that media was created. The geotag is a form of metadata, or data about data. Think of a document you created on your computer to write your resume. Once saved, it has the name of the file, date and time created, modified, last accessed, the author and the version or type of file. All this information that describes your document is considered metadata. This metadata, including the geotag, are also created for your pictures, text messages and almost all types of media.

Most modern cameras and smartphones store the geotag as a part of the metadata settings. Therefore, the picture of your daughter at her dance recital, the video of the birthday party in the backyard, the text message to say "I’m here waiting for you", all hold location information about where it was created.

Websites such as Flickr allow users to share their pictures with friends and family quickly and easily. When a user uploads a photo, it can be added to a map based on the geotagging information, allowing a user to customize how they store and organize their photos. Flickr, like many other photo-sharing sites, depends on the trend of geotagging to give users a more fun and exciting experience of showcasing their adventures online. This in itself is harmless, but with access to the geotag, anyone can determine your location, which puts users at risks to online predators. Now everyone who sees the birthday video and your pictures could find out where you live, where you spend your time, all the information you don’t want shared with strangers.

The geotag is obtained from the global positioning system (GPS) that is built into your smartphone or digital camera, which allows for it to be done without your knowledge.

Protective Measures

Practices

  • Read the registration information, license agreement and privacy policy thoroughly: Be mindful when joining websites and downloading applications of the feature settings and questions during signup and installation. Many users just keep clicking OK to get access as quickly as possible. Read the information provided to ensure you are completely aware of the service you are using.

Settings

  • Check the settings on your smartphone and cameras and disable the GPS or other settings that allows the capturing of your location. If unable to do it yourself, speak with customer service and get assistance with turning it off.
  • Check your online accounts at see if geotagging is enabled and disable the feature. If unsure check, send the website an inquiry to find out if location information is being stored and how you can disable it for your account.
  • Disable geolocation in your browser. Look for this option in the privacy settings of your preferred browser.

Tools

  • Geotag Removal Software: For your older photos, it is still possible to remove the geotag with software, of which many are available for free online. After you download the software, use it to scan your existing files and remove the geotag data from them.

Legal Issues

Ethical

Geotagging is not illegal and is welcomed as a way to bring the world closer together and make our lives more fun and easy. Ideally, websites and applications should not automatically include geotagging features without a user's permission; they should require opt in, not opt out. That is, a user should be asked if they want the feature enabled, instead of having it automatically enabled and the user has to choose to deactivate. Also, websites and applications should be very clear and upfront about how the geotagging information is being used.

Legal

Wireless providers are required by law to include precise location information for 911 calls. The information about a caller's location must be accurate within 50 to 300 feet. By enabling emergency responders to track a call, geotagging has helped in emergency situations.

Privacy

With the upsurge of smartphones and social networking sites, sharing pictures, videos and information has become the norm. However, it is not always apparent what hidden information you reveal to others. This information is not only about yourself and your family but also about everyone else that is in your pictures or video.

Do you ask individuals before posting a picture that you took of them? Do you always know if a website you are on is tracking your location for advertising or other customer-focused personalization? There are many good uses of geotagging, but privacy issues are a concern when you don't realize it is happening.

References

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