One of most sought-after features in digital cameras these days is also a cause for concern for photographers and consumers alike. Thanks to the civilian use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), many digital cameras are now location-aware, meaning that they are fitted with GPS receivers that constantly update the camera’s position. This feature is very popular now; many online retailers that offer camera deals tend to tout location-aware features to attract customers.
Earlier this year, a few investigative news reports showed a potential privacy concern related to the use of GPS-enabled cameras. The specific concern is over geotagging, the process by which location-aware digital cameras include precise geographical location information and a timestamp to each photograph taken or video recorded. The level of detail in each geotag varies depending on each manufacturer, the model of the camera used and the software installed. Most GPS cameras will tag the latitude and longitude (lat-long) position of the camera at the time the picture is taken. These coordinates can be plotted on a map to find out exactly where a picture was taken, and in some cases the altitude, the bearing or direction the camera was aiming at the time, and even the name of the geographical location.
How Geotagging Works
Digital cameras and smartphones equipped with GPS receivers these days stamp each photograph and video recording with geotags recorded into an Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) file. EXIF information isn’t immediately visible to the naked eye; it must be revealed with a software application. Most photo viewing and editing applications display EXIF data. People who are unfamiliar with EXIF are often surprised at the rich amount of information their cameras collect.
Reasons For Concern
Digital photography and online social networking have made it very easy to share pictures and videos with friends and relatives. Once a geotagged photo is posted on the Internet or sent via e-mail, anyone will have access to the EXIF data contained therein and see where and when the picture was taken. This creates a potentially hazardous situation for someone who, for example, takes photos of valuable objects they wish to sell in their home and later posts those pictures to an online classified marketplace. An unsavory character could conceivably find the residential address where the picture was located and pay an unscheduled visit.
Exit the EXIF
Geotagging should not detract anyone from purchasing a GPS-enabled digital camera. The feature can be easily disabled so that a camera does not record sensitive EXIF data. Since some of the better deals on cameras these days will include a GPS feature, it pays to read manuals and inquire about how geotagging can be turned off.
Are there any other methods to ensure privacy in digital photography?
Mila Johnson is an avid photographer and writer with her BFA in Digital Photography.
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