Smartphone Pics: Stealing More Than Souls

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Smartphones
rule the world. They can do everything but wash my car, which I
hear is a new feature of the iphone 5. But there are some things
you need to keep in mind when using them, cause they know a lot
about you and can reveal a lot of things you wouldn’t think
about.

Location-Based
Applications

Most people
have some kind of location-based application on their smartphone.
Google maps, Google Locator, Foursquare, Loopt, Whrrl or a million
other apps. They rely on your GPS coordinates to tell you what is
around you, how to get where you are going, and who else might be
around. If you are using these kinds of apps and taking pictures
with your smartphone, you might be capturing more than a nice sunset
or a goofy friend.

Lots Of
Information Stored In Smartphone Picture Files

What people
may not inherently be aware of is that your phone is not only taking
that picture, but it may be secretly recording a bunch of other
data about the picture in the same file. Things like the time of
day, the resolution, etc. are all normal and expected. If your phone
has a location-based app, it might also be recording the exact location
of the photo. If you don’t do anything about it, that info
is automatically uploaded with the picture, buried in the code,
available to anyone who goes looking.

For some pictures,
having the location isn’t that bad. Remembering where that
awesome restaurant is in Thailand can be helpful next time you go
back. Sorting through your vacation pics based on locations you
visit can be helpful too. But you might be uploading pics that have
information you don’t want to share.

Smartphone
Picture Sharing Might Share Too Much

What if, for
example, you uploaded some family photos from Christmas onto Flickr.
If you took those photos with your Android
phone
or even with a GPS-enabled digital
camera
, chances are, the Flickr image you upload from those
devices has the GPS coordinates for anyone to see. If you celebrate
Christmas at home, this might be a very bad thing. This could be
especially troublesome if the pictures show a nice flat screen TV,
a pile of ipods and some other cool electronics in the background.

Risk Of
Theft

This data allows
potential thieves to amass huge databases of people and their addresses
and link that information to their Twitter feeds and other social-networking
sites. As soon as you tweet about dinner in San Fran, a malicious
follower will know you are hundreds of miles from your home in San
Antonio, and might take advantage.

Risk Of
Stalking

Stalkers can
use this data to hunt their prey. Stalking isn’t just a problem
for celebrities. It’s also a problem for the other 3.4 million
people a year who are stalked in the US. That is almost 1 out of
every one hundred people. Careless use of your digital devices will
only make it easier for stalkers to hunt you, your friends, or your
family. Even taking a picture of some ducks in the park with your
Blackberry can be a problem. If a stranger sees you taking that
picture, they can search through the various photo-sharing sites,
not looking for pictures of ducks, but looking for the pictures
taken at that location near that time. If you have that geographic
information included in the file with your duck pictures, you might
also have geographic information about your house, work and other
favorite spots secretly buried in your other photos. This lets that
city park creep know exactly where you live, even though you have
never even seen this guy.

Risk Of
Gettin’ Busted

Even a sneaky
boss might be suspicious of your sick day taken during playoff season.
A search of photos, even if they aren’t tagged with the specific
event, might reveal that you were nursing a cold one at the ball
park instead of nursing a headache on your couch when you called
in sick.

Solution

First be aware
whether your phone, smart phone or regular digital camera records
location. You may be able to turn off the GPS location recording
on your phone. If not, refrain from posting any photos onto the
internet. If you do, use a program to delete that information from
the file. You can delete that data (called EXIF data) from your
pictures in photoshop or this free
program
which I haven’t tried out yet.

If you are
really serious, you can refrain from ever taking a picture at or
near your home. You can also try and get friends not to do that
either. Good luck with that one.

The solutions
already listed will still not do anything to prevent hackers from
stealing your location from your phone service provider. If that
idea makes it hard for you to sleep at night, use a prepaid
cell phone
instead of a nice Blackberry
and don’t use GPS-enabled digital cameras.

Conclusion

Make sure to
keep as much control as you need over your digital life. Use good
habits when using new technology to prevent unwitting disclosure
of valuable personal information. Ensure tools like Spy
Bubble
are not on your cell phone(s). Use proxy servers to do
anonymous
browsing
, use good privacy
software
, encrypt
files
and encrypt
emails
, and keep
your home address private.

Reprinted
with permission from How to
Vanish.

December
29, 2010

Bill
Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting
from the University of Utah and a law degree from California
Western School of Law
. He practices civil litigation, domestic
and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal
defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and
financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article
of 73 by Bill
Rounds J.D.

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