Careful! Smart Phones Automatically Store Location In Photos

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Could a simple snapshot reveal more than just your smile to strangers? We tested this question in our newsroom to see if our news team could find an exact location from a simple photo posted online.

With just a click of a button, the answer was yes.

It’s all through the settings of location services, a program that embeds GPS data in every photo posted from a smartphone.

OIT Communications Manager Sean O’Malley works with location services everyday and says using it is like using a double edged sword.

“Usually if you have location services on your device that means there’s a very tiny gps unit inside the device so that it can track you anytime you use the device, any time you move around,” said O’Malley.

If location settings are enabled, photos won’t only reveal the location of the building, but they will also reveal elevation. That means anyone can access your location down to the floor and room that you took the picture in.

Executive Director of Athens County Childrens’ Services Cathy Hill says that the best way for parents to protect their children from abuse of technology like this is to learn about it.

“I think it’s opened up a whole new era for parents to be educated about and take precautions about for their child’s safety,“ said Hill.

“A lot of it just comes down to common sense," O'Malley said. "Would you share this information with strangers if you were face to face? Think about what you would tell a stranger then look at your settings to make sure your phone isn’t telling them for you. “

To prevent photos from being posted with GPS coordinates in them you can go to your privacy settings, click on location services, then turn off those services on apps that you do not want your location used on.

“Ask yourself, why does this app need my location? Some may just use it to push local ads. If you don’t think it’s a good reason turn the location services off for that app,” said O’Malley.

As for photos that have already been posted with enabled location services, GPS coordniates can only be removed if the photo is taken down and then reposted without the EXIF data (GPS data) on the photo.