Every picture taken, whether it is a selfie, a family photo or a landscape, has information that is hidden from most viewers but can be accessed by anyone with the right tools online, according to the Digicamhelp website.
When a photo is taken on a digital camera or a smartphone, it contains exchangeable image file format data, according to the Digicamhelp website.
EXIF data can provide such information as camera model and serial number, the date and time a photo was taken, exposure settings and even the exact GPS coordinates of the camera at the time that a photo was taken, according to evidencemagazine.com.
Many photos and videos uploaded on the internet contain this information and can be used by anyone with the click of a mouse, according to BBC News.
Online services such as Jeffrey Friedl’s Image Metadata Viewer can take the EXIF data from an image uploaded online and with it find where and when the image was taken and from which device, according to Friedl’s blog.
“It is creepy because people can know where you’re at,” said Maddy Schwab, a sophomore studying dance. “I move around a lot from state to state, so if people want to catch me, they’ll have to be really dedicated.”
Alaura Millet, a sophomore studying music, said she is uncomfortable with the idea of people being able to find her location through her photos.
“I try to keep my things private, so knowing that stuff is out there, it terrifies me,” Millet said.
Ryan Whittemore, a junior majoring in international studies, said he did not mind if police could access his information because he feels like he does not have anything to hide.
“I like how the cops could get into that website and find out who did it,” Whittemore said. “I feel like it could be used for good.”
Forensic investigators can use data embedded in pictures to assist in solving crimes and providing reliable proof by using it to find where and when a suspect took a particular picture, said Josh Moulin, a former forensic computer examiner, in an online blog called The Graveyard Shift.
Some social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, remove the EXIF data from pictures before they are uploaded, while others such as Flickr, Google+, and most blog sites leave that information embedded in the photos.
“I hate when people who don’t know me know stuff about me through social media,” Millet said.
If you post your selfie on a website that doesn’t remove the metadata, you may be giving away a lot more information than you intend to, according to BBC News.
“EXIF data was originally created for photographers so they could look at their camera settings stored within the EXIF data to find out what settings worked or didn’t work when taking pictures under different conditions,” Moulin said.
This information embedded in photos also acts as a copyright, helping professional photographers maintain their rights to the works they publish online.
Because certain social media sites strip the embedded EXIF data from pictures, their sources become unknown, and cannot be attributed to the original photographer. This gives social media sights ownership to any photos that are uploaded into their system.
“I’m big on owning your own property,” Whittemore said. “If I was a photographer, I would want people to see it, but I don’t like the idea that Facebook can have other people’s professional work.”
There’s no excuse for social media sites stripping out all embedded metadata, except maybe them trying to lock their users in and avoid copyright issues, according to the Sentiance website.
Smartphone users can avoid revealing the time and location in which they take photos by turning off the location setting on their device.
“People just need to be more informed,” Whittemore said.
He said if people knew more about what information was in their photos, then they would be more careful about what they post online.