Online photos share personal info with strangers

Metadata reveals where photos were taken

INDIANAPOLIS - When sharing photos online, there's more to consider than the perfect angle.

Data attached to the photos could share a family's personal information -- even their address -- with complete strangers.

To demonstrate, Indiana State Police Lt. Chuck Cohen snapped a quick picture of RTV6 photographer Eldon, sent the file to his computer and, with a simple right click of the mouse, unveiled information about when and where he took the photo. 

"Here I've got GPS information. I know we are 219 meters above sea level," Cohen said. "I know the date and time the picture was taken."

Cohen also easily accessed latitude and longitude coordinates and a map showing his location inside the Indiana State Police office, give or take 20 or 30 yards.

Cohen says stripping pictures of metadata could help people avoid sharing private information. 

"The safest thing is to not pass that information on to others," he said.

Erik Deckers, a social media consultant and father of three, said he and his wife are aware of the risks of sharing photos online and take appropriate action.

"I don't want to risk anything," Deckers said. "We don't reveal personal information like where we live."

Deckers said he changed his phone setting to disable the GPS.

"I try not to take photos on the phone at home -- and if I do it's no big deal, I can go and strip the data later," he said.

Cohen said overall, parents should protect their children like decades past, just be aware of what else they're sharing to strangers online.

"Even though certain technologies exist to be able to track your location, the easiest thing is the same as it's been for the last 100 years... It's to find out where your child goes to school, day care, where your family spends time and track the person from there," he said.

Each social media site has different policies, so if users really want to be aware of what they're sharing, they need to read the fine print before posting.

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