Imagine you just bought a car. It’s right in front of your house – brand new and shiny. On the spur of the moment, you snap a photo of it with your smartphone and tweet about it to share your excitement with the entire world. A few minutes later, still under excitement’s spell, you tweet again: “Off to work. Taking her for a spin!” You just can’t help it. Who could?
But now, potential thieves can easily find out where you live and pay you a visit while you’re at work. All “thanks” to geo-tagging – this minor, so often overlooked detail. Not just your privacy is at stake, but your physical security, as well.
Geo-tagging leaves your front door open to crooks
With the increase of smartphone usage, geo-tagging has also gained huge popularity. The GPS built within most smartphones allows for every photo and video to be automatically “labeled” with the exact geographical data of the location where the media item was taken. So when you post it online, these details can be seen by the entire web. If you attach them to an updated status like: “On vacation” or “Off to work”, it makes it even easier for interested folks – i.e. thieves, identity thieves and stalkers – to take action. There’s even plug-ins that extract geo data from photos and anyone with average programming skills can write a program that searches the web for geo-tagged photos and certain statuses.
An even easier way to hand over to these folks the exact coordination of your location is by checking in on a regular basis on social networks – Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, Path etc. Such behaviour – let’s call it “too social” – could also be dangerous because it allows criminals to make a pattern of all the places you go to on a regular basis.
Kids are tracked by cyberstalkers and child predators
Kids are using geo-tagging and check-in features feverishly, without really being aware of the risks they pose, making them easy preys. So, if your kid is at school or a friend’s house and checks-in on social media or posts photos online geo-tagging them, cyberbullies, cyberstalkers and even child predators may use that information to harm them.
How to avoid geo-tagging risks:
- Educate yourself thoroughly about privacy and security risks posed by geo-tagging. Find out exactly which of your favourite social networking sites use geo-tag features and if they let you opt out.
- Talk to your kids about the potential risks of geo-tagging and teach them when it’s sensible to turn on the geo-tagging feature on their phone. Otherwise, make sure they have it turned off all the time. Also, teach them about mobile security.
- Consider disabling this feature yourself, as well. If you can’t figure out how to disable it, contact your smartphone provider or your phone carrier.
- Install parental controls on your kid’s phone. It’s best you keep an eye on their whereabouts yourself.
- Be careful who you accept in your social media circle. The friend of a friend of a friend might actually be a criminal.
- Don’t check in to the same place regularly. Stalkers and thieves may learn about your habits, spy on you and break into your home as soon as you leave.
- Avoid tagging friends in photos when you’re all at the same place. You never know how this might affect them.
- Check your security settings on your social media accounts and limit who can see your tags, check-ins and maps.
- In short, share thoughtfully!
What’s your opinion on sharing your location online? Has geo-tagging ever caused you misfortunes?