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Uploading Digital Pictures to Social Media Can Reveal Location of Home, School

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's the data, the numbers inside digital pictures, that may compromise your family and what criminals really want.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's the data, the numbers inside digital pictures, that may compromise your family and what criminals really want.

Each time you and millions of Americans upload pictures to social media each day, we all could be giving away information about the location of your home, your children's school or daycare or other places your family frequents to total strangers.

Raylene Lee, who is a mother of two, is the chief picture-taker of her family. She uses both her iPhone and iPad to capture pictures of her daughters and husband to post them to social media to share with friends and family. 

But, these and other 'smart' devices are capturing more than their smiles. 

Drury Professor of Computer Science Dr. Scott Sigman says embedded within the picture is information called metadata.

For phones with Global Positioning System capabilities it is the 'when and where' this picture was taken.

Sigman used a free program from the internet to rip data from a photo.
 "I can download the meta information, extract it and do whatever I want to with it,” says Sigman.

The program quickly reveals the photos information. 

"There are all kinds of information in this particular file,” says Sigman. "Right here is the GPS data.”

Sigman points through white data on a stark, black screen.

"The longitude, latitude position,” Sigman says. “You can take the latitude and longitude and type them in Google maps and find it.”

Reporter Laurie Patton demonstrates with her own iPhone in the video above.

"If your camera on your phone is GPS enabled, you can see if happening in real time,” says Patton. “Showing the street where it was taken. Here I took pictures at three different locations inside my child's daycare and the information is so specific it gives not only the street names but it shows exactly where I was in the building."

KOLR10 showed Lee where it was on her phone and how it could be extracted from pictures shared on social media. 

 “I hadn't seen it, basically your front door or your daycare or your church or wherever,” says Lee. "I think it's pretty scary, it is pretty pinpoint on where you are at. That it's very specific. That is someone wanted to find us they could"

That's the biggest concern for Police Detective like Billy Miller, an investigator with Nixa's Cyber Crimes Unit.

 "It just gives the predators an opportunity to track where you're located,” says Detective Miller. "If they're wanting to get to a child or a child in particular"

A group called "Icanstalku.com" wanted to show just how easy it was.

They combed sites like Craigslist, Photo sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket and Twitpic and blogs and revealed the location of the picture taker.

They revealed thousands of locations. 

Some social media strips the data now.

"Like Facebook, the policy actually is to remove that data" said Dr. Scott Sigman "When they download that picture the geo-tagging is gone.”

But if the photograph contains the data when uploaded, Facebook will map it. 

The fix, however, is simple. 

"You just have to adjust your settings on your phone,” says Detective Miller.
Keeping her family safe is reason enough for Raylene Lee.

 "Yes, I will change the settings on my phone and on my iPad,” says Lee.

But, Lee is not afraid of the technology itself.

"So if I had to call 911, or the girls had to call 911 it's on there for a reason,” says Lee. “So it doesn't upset me I just think I need to be aware
of what it's doing. What I'm posting to and who can see it."

So, after a few adjustments to her phone Lee can snap away keeping her little stars safe. 

It's important to note that many things on your phone use GPS, so it is not necessary to disable the GPS for your phone, nor should you because of 911 emergency services.

Icanstalku.com has since shuttered its project. But, still available on the website are the instructions about how to disable the GPS on several smart phones. http://icanstalku.com/how.php

On the iPhone with the new iOS7 operating system, it is this easy and you don't have to disable GPS for the entire phone.

  • Hit settings

  • Go into your privacy settings

  • Click on location services and there you can see all of your apps using your GPS.

  • Just slide the camera button to the off position

But, also be aware of any other camera apps that may want to access your location.

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