Privacy Risk: Smartphone Pictures Can Give Away Your Location


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Keep your family safe: Turn off the GPS on your smartphone pictures, or don’t share them online. Image by IntelFreePress

Do you take photos with your smartphone and post them online?

Innocent photos of your children or snapshots of family get-togethers that you want to remember are common on social media sites.

However, these photos pose a serious and dangerous privacy risk.

Thieves and criminals can find the exact location where your photos were taken, via the GPS on your smartphone – whether that’s your child’s bedroom or your favorite restaurant.

This security concern has been around for quite a while – but privacy breaches will continue, as long as geo-tracking is enabled by default on your family’s photos.

Smartphone Pictures: Hidden Dangers

The software behind the photos includes geo-tags, according to Deep Medhi, a computer science professor at UMKC.

These are geographical tags that store where and when the photo was taken, similar to the type of technology used in GPS devices.

Your smartphone automatically stores the location where the photos were taken, whether it is at a local park, your child’s day care center, or even your own home.

Anyone can easily translate these geo-tags through browser add-ons that are completely free to download. The add-ons or apps turn the geo-tags into mapped locations to make it easier for human eyes to determine the location.

Geo-Tag Stalking: Websites Already Using This Technology

There are already websites using this technology on unsuspecting computer users. ICanStalkU is just one on the list that takes photos from Twitter and posts the photographer’s location. According to the site, the purpose is to raise awareness, and make it clear how private information can be made public – and isn’t supposed to be anything sinister.

I Can Stalk U offers step-by-step tutorials to disarm the geo-tagging on various smartphone operating systems, including the Apple, Blackberry, Android and Windows systems.

Smartphone GPS Settings: Be Safe

It just takes a click of a button to find your exact location. Image by Brian Sawyer

You can still post your photos and be safe – just make sure you turn off the GPS setting for photos you plan to post online. You can do this by going into Settings and then into the location settings. You can switch the GPS setting off for everything from here or for individual apps on your phone, including the camera.

It is also important to check your online settings for anywhere that you post the pictures online on a regular basis. Make sure the photos are set to private, so that unauthorized viewing of the photos is restricted.

If your children use social media profiles and post photos online, check the security settings of their accounts too and the GPS settings of their phones as well. Of course, the safest way to keep your children and families safe is by not posting family photos online at all.

Smartphone Pictures: Keep Your Family Safe

Technology is continually developing, and privacy is an ongoing problem – particularly for social media sites like Facebook. If you’re not careful, you could be giving criminals all the information they need to harm you and your family. For now, make sure your GPS settings are set to the level of control that you want them, and be careful when posting pictures online. It takes just a free browser add-on to get more information than just the image shows.


NBC Action News. Smartphone Pictures Pose Privacy Risk. (2010). Accessed August 13, 2013.

I Can Stalk U. About. (2013). Accessed August 13, 2013.

Data Privacy Network. Cyberstalking, Geotagging, and Smartphones. (2013). Accessed August 13, 2013.

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