Preserving online Privacy: Removing geolocation data from images

Preserving online Privacy: Removing geolocation data from images

online privacy

In 2010 when Facebook released it’s “check-in” feature, I checked-out. I didn’t check out of Facebook, but I did check out of the location feature. I remember clearly sitting at a lunch with a large group of friends and one of them took a picture, checked into the restaurant and started tagging all of us. I didn’t mind her posting the image, but I stopped her before she tagged me.

Why? I simply don’t want everyone to know where I am at all times. I also don’t post images from family vacations while we are away. I don’t talk about upcoming events where the whole family will be gone at the same time. It’s a safety issue for myself and my family.

This summer I led a breakout session at an annual conference and we talked about protecting online privacy and storytelling for some fantastic adoption and foster agencies. We’re reading news projecting the death of text-only statuses on Facebook in the next three years, which mean images and videos are only going to become more important.

We’ve all choked on the fake stock photos many sites offer. Smiling kids and families in beautiful places tell the story we want to tell, but our readers know those aren’t our real families or our real children.

Each organization who works with vulnerable people has to determine what is acceptable for their population and audience. Some nonprofits will agree to show pictures of groups of children or people but never images of a single person alone. Others rule out showing faces which leaves you with some creative silhouettes or fun stickers placed over identifying facial features.

Photo privacy is more than just the image of a person. One member of the audience brought up the geolocation data that’s included in many digital images these days. Some research shows Facebook and Instagram scrub this data from images when they are uploaded. (Note: this article is being written in August 2017. We all know how quickly Facebook changes its rules, so do your due diligence to make sure this is still true.) Other social sites like SnapChat have recently started showing where you are when you upload an image unless your account is in ghost mode.

This data is officially called EXIF and in addition to GPS information, it includes information about the image itself like what type of camera was used, what settings the photographer used and some copyright information.

Be on the safe side. Delete the geolocation data from your images before you post them.

You can accomplish this in a couple of different ways.

  1. Disable location services on the camera app on your phone or your digital camera (if you are using a camera without GPS capability, you’re already good)
  2. For Windows Users: Open your image on your desktop, right click and select “properties”, click “details” and at the bottom “Remove Properties and Personal Information”
  3. For Mac users: Open your image in preview, go to “tools” in your menu bar and select “show inspector”, hit the (i) icon for the info panel, select the “GPS” sub tab, and you’ll see a “Remove Location Info” button.

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For organizations concerned people might track the location of a photo based images outside of the photo itself, you can also take other precautions:

  • Take pictures at a well-known location the subjects of your pictures do not frequent (a park on the other side of town or a local church where the family doesn’t attend)
  • Take pictures at your location (if it’s already public knowledge where you are located)
  • Schedule a photo shoot inside a photographer’s studio
  • Crop out all identifying information (street signs, building names, landmarks, etc)

We will use stock images when needed, but we always prefer to use real images for the social media for nonprofits we serve. We’ve accomplished this in multiple ways like taking a lot of pictures during events, staging photo shoots for the purpose of creating our own “stock” photo files and staging the images that we need for specific posts.

How do you gather the images you need for your social media sites?