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Look Ma - No Hands!

Non-Warning: Smartphone Pictures Pose Privacy Risk

There’s a bit of a scare being circulated this week, mostly via Facebook. Perhaps you’ve seen it:
Warning: Smartphone Pictures Pose Privacy Risk
Warning: Smartphone Pictures Pose Privacy Risk

Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be aware of information that’s captured about themselves and their children, but there are a couple of things you should know about this.

1. According to Facebook’s help pages, downloaded files don’t contain location information. I don’t know if this has always been the case or not; perhaps it wasn’t back when that video was recorded.

2. The video that’s being pointed to is from November, 2010. In Internet time, that’s forever ago. Facebook and other online services change their software often — many services deploy changes multiple times every day (we call that “continuous deployment” and yes, it’s really practiced).

3. I did a quick experiment, the results of which you can see here, and it shows that Facebook’s help page is indeed correct.

test showing exif location info of an original image, the same image uploaded to Twitter, and to Facebook.
A test showing exif location info of an original image, the same image uploaded to Twitter, and to Facebook. Click the image to show full-size.

On the left is the exif information from a photo I just took. You can see the location and other information plainly. I then uploaded the file to Twitter and Facebook, and both services seem to have stripped out the location and some other info before saving them. Other online services may or may not do the same thing. I know of many which explicitly do not.

Facebook does have an option to “add location” to any picture.
Add Location
If you choose to do that, all bets are off.

You can see the photos which do have a location associated with them by going to your profile page and choosing “Places”
Facebook's Places

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In my opinion: As in many cases, the answer’s very simple…

Don't Panic.

Updated: September 5, 2013 — 9:55 am

1 Comment

  1. ” … and both services seem to have stripped out the location and some other info before saving them … ”

    Conspiracy theory here! “BEFORE SAVING?” or just string it off when sending it to users? I wouldn’t trust FB to strip it off before saving. I’d bet they still have all the EXIF that you send them.

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