Online Photos Could Give Strangers Your Exact Location

With built-in geotagging technology, many people could be putting themselves or their loved-ones in danger

Would you ever want to tell a criminal, child predator or other random person how to find you? Many people unknowingly already do.

Posting pictures on Facebook or Twitter of your friends and of what you're doing and where you're going, has become second-nature. But it could be putting your or your loved-ones in danger.

Until she was told, Chantal Meier -- a proud mother of three -- said the danger never really occurred to her.

"You are almost providing hand-fed information to someone who could use it in a bad way," she said.

The danger comes in an option called "geotagging" or "location services." It's an option on most smartphones, and even on some new digital cameras. It leaves a digital footprint on a picture, called metadata, that tells anyone who knows how to find it the exact GPS location of where that picture was taken.

If you have the wrong setting on your social media accounts, not only could the picture have location data on it, but you may also tweet or post a map of your exact location.

Commander Michael Anton with the Cook County Sheriff's Department Child Exploitation Unit said many people incorrectly think it takes a genius to find location data on a photo.

"It's information that is easily accessible by just an ordinary person. There isn't any software needed, there isn’t any police investigative techniques, anyone can do this," he said.

Anton said inadvertently providing your location is an easy way to become a target.

"We have literally hundreds of predators that we have arrested. We have uncovered over 100 victims and they became victims because of the internet usage and not being monitored," he said.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Authorities recommend that all of your family members social media accounts be set to the highest "private" setting available.
  • If you have an iPhone, make sure the "Location Services" tab in the camera's settings is switched to off.
  • If you have a Blackberry, it's the "Geotagging" tab in camera settings menu.
  • Android and other smartphones have similar settings. The option should always be off.
  • Authorities also recommend changing your settings so that all Facebook "tags" must first be approved.
  • Make sure the GPS option on your Facebook or Twitter accounts is also set to off.

How to Disable Location Services:

The website has detailed instructions for iOS, Android, WebOS and Blackberry operating systems.

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