EXIF data. Familiarize yourself with it. Inhale, exhale, and live in harmony with EXIF data. Understand the mechanics of the Exchangeable Image File format, for it could someday ruin your life. For the average photographer, EXIF data is a bare essential, divulging Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed, and an avalanche of additional image information pertaining to the camera used.

But when the average Dick or Jane take pictures with newfangled gadgets that feature GPS technology and a camera, we introduce a whole new bag of Ruffles. If Dick or Jane happen to have GPS turned on while capturing images and upload them straight to a social networking or media site from that device, they are placing themselves in grave danger without knowing it.

EXIF-GPS-DataYou see, the geotag coordinates are stored within the EXIF data of an image, in addition to all of the splendid manual control settings. Open up a GPS-enabled image on your computer using Preview, Microsoft Picture Viewer, or whatever else happens to be your old standby. Select the option to view EXIF data (on Preview it’s Tools>Inspector>EXIF), and you will see the coordinates of the exact location you snapped that hot picture of your girlfriend.

That’s the same picture you happened to upload to MySpace the other night, right from the phone you took it with. So, that means any pervert can drag that picture to their desktop from MySpace or any of the other 15 sites you uploaded it to and track down her exact location using the GPS information in its EXIF data. That’s particularly sordid, isn’t it?

There are a few ways around this, my friends. First, get out your flashy Android or Steve Jobs machines and go to GPS settings in the camera menu. If it’s set to “On”, that means your images are tracking your every move. I always keep GPS off, unless I’m at a public landmark, like the world’s tallest Paul Bunyan statue.

Camera-Location-ServicesSecondly, if you edit the image in Photoshop or another photo editing program, the EXIF data will be altered or wiped, including geotags. However, double-check before you upload after you have edited your image. Some sites like Flickr allow you to disable EXIF data or wipe geotags from your images when you upload them. This is great, but you’ve got to stay on top of this in order to remain safe out there, kids.

To my knowledge, Facebook wipes the EXIF data from images when you upload them, so good on Zuckerberg for doing something right related to privacy. However, Photobucket, Snapfish, Picasa, and other photo-sharing sites have different protocalls, so be sure to investigate them all before you hurl those pictures up there.

Within the last few years, camcorders have adopted GPS technology, and the same precautions must be heeded. The bottom line is that if you buy any digital imaging device, whether it’s the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS digital camera, Sony HDR-CX360V HD camcorder, T-Mobile G2x smartphone, or Motorola XOOM tablet, you’re going to have to monitor your GPS settings like a hawk.

This has been an official public service announcement from the Department of I Care About Techno Buffalo Readers, Inc.