Your smartphone will stamp or “tag” every photo you take with the exact geographic location of where it was taken. Some cameras also have geotagging technology built-in.
This extra information, called EXIF metadata, is embedded within the image file and can be useful – for example helping you recall where all those vacation photos were taken.
In general, though, we recommend disabling geotags, particularly if you share photos online. Location data makes it too easy for a potential stranger to associate faces with places – like your child to his favorite playground.
Disable Geotagging on Your Devices
Turning off GPS location storage in your smartphone settings will apply to all future photos.
For the iPhone, this is found under: Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services.
Make sure Camera is set to OFF.
For cameras, if you’re a point-and-shooter like me, it’s likely your camera doesn’t have geotagging technology built-in. Check the manual or run a quick Google search to confirm, and learn how to disable if needed.
For Eye-Fi card fans, make sure this setting is turned off as well.
Remove Location Data from Existing Photos
If you’re concerned about location data that may already be embedded in existing photos, use the free Geotag Security tool to scan your computer for geotags and remove them.
Note that any of these free programs will indiscriminately remove all metadata, which includes information like the date/time stamp, flash, focal length, exposure time, and more as well as location.
Can’t See It. Is It Really There?
The EXIF metadata that includes geotags is embedded within an image file and hidden from casual viewing.
To read it and see what’s there, you’ll need to peek inside the file.
- On Macs, open the image in Preview. Select “Tools” then “Show Inspector” and click on “Exif.”
- On PCs, right-click the image to view its properties. Under the “Details” tab, look for the GPS section.
Good to Know
Facebook strips all EXIF data and compresses your images to save space.
On Flickr, the default is not to share location information; you have to actively opt-in to share this with others. For older Flickr accounts like mine, check just to confirm. Find this under Settings -> Privacy & Permissions.
Privacy vs. Copyright Protection
Interesting side note: professional photographers typically do not want to hide their EXIF data, as it can help protect their copyrights. If the owner of copyrighted work can not be found or identified, the work can be used so long as the person using it performed a “reasonable search”.
Keeping EXIF data intact helps others track down the photographer for permission to use their work and apply proper credit.
It’s your basic trade-off: privacy vs. copyright protection. Facebook’s blanket policy of stripping EXIF data favors privacy and their average user, while Flickr caters to a more professional photographer and offers their users a choice.
While I wouldn’t lose sleep worrying about the photos you already have, turning off geotagging now to protect future photos is a worthwhile security precaution that only takes a few minutes.