GEOTAGGING: Internet safety and online privacy
THE Internet and privacy have been major concerns in the past decade — and rightly so. Facebook alone has been caught up in several court cases in the past few years, which has seen the service making major revisions to their privacy policies.
Facebook aside, several of the latest gadgets on the market today automatically make use of geotagging. This infuses media such as photographs with location-based information or metadata, which is perhaps the bigger concern when it comes to privacy and security online.
What is geotagging?
The following definition of geotagging is taken from the official homepage of the U.S. army, which is trying to discourage troopers from using social media services and risk compromising their positions.
“Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and SMS messages. It is the equivalent of adding a 10-digit grid co-ordinate to everything you post on the Internet.” – www.army.mil
iPhones, iPads, smartphones with built-in GPS, and several other devices automatically create such metadata when content is shared or posted on the Internet. Smartphones in particular automatically embed geotags in pictures taken — often with users being unaware.
Social networking services, on the other hand, are being forced to be a lot clearer when it comes to geotagging photos and videos in particular when posting them on the Internet. Photo sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa for example, offer geotagging options, but this is not an automatic function.
The fear is that tagging photos or videos with an exact location on the Internet allows random people to track an person’s location and movement patterns.
Understand what you’re using
It is therefore important to understand the characteristics of any hi-tech device you might own. Study its manual to determine how to switch off GPS functions. This is, of course, if you fear for your own safety.
Perhaps the real concern involves parents of teenage children. There is a prevalent belief that pedophiles living in basements scan the Internet on a daily basis and use such services to find their next victims. It would be foolish to think that such people don’t exist, but it would also be a shame if technology was avoided altogether because of a fear of them.
The bottom line is to practise being a savvy and cautious Internet user and teach such practices to your children. Social networking is all about bringing people together and sharing experiences with family and friends. It has also been used to successfully capture criminals online. Good measures are already in place to keep things private and secure and are being continuously improved. The choice to behave in a relatively risk-free and secure manner online lies entirely in the hands of the user.
Geotagging, the Internet & online privacy: final thoughts
As soon as you sign up for a Google account or join a social networking site or service, you immediately begin building an online track record. Deciding who you connect with, and what information you choose to supply online, will determine who gets to learn what about you.
If you use services such as Gmail, Twitter or Facebook, look under your “settings” tabs to access and edit privacy options.
Of course there are risks of genuine breaches to private information; but, if you have nothing to hide and are savvy and cautious when online, the chances of geotagged media seriously harming you or your family are about the same as being struck by lightning.