Geotagging – What it is and why it’s important for every parent to know about

Geotagging refers to the information that a ‘smart device’ such as a phone, tablet or digital camera stores each time you take a photo or video.

We all need to be aware that whenever we take a photograph or video, information such as our geographical location, date and time, and the camera settings we used, is almost always embedded in the digital files of that photograph or video.

This identification data is usually stored as ‘metadata’ in what is called an EXIF file, as part of your digital photograph.

This is a great feature, because instead of having to label every photo with where and when it was taken, it’s all done automatically for you. With software like iPhoto, you can even view all your photos on a map of the world, seeing all your travels in a brilliantly visual way.

So what’s the problem?

When people share photos online, they often don’t fully understand all the information they’re potentially sharing.

Sharing photos online has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years. Social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram make it really easy to upload photos and share them with friends. Young people today share their photos frequently and almost automatically, on any number of social networks.

On most Instagram accounts for example, a stranger can pull up a map and see the exact location, date and time of every photo that the Instagram user has posted. That would mean that complete strangers can get a very clear picture of their lives. The information could show them where the child goes to school, where they live, where they play sport on the weekend, when and where they go on holidays, where their friend’s house is etc etc.

As always, if you are informed about the problem, you can take measures to be safe:

  • If you allow your children to have any sort of social network account where they share photos, ensure that you make them aware of the information that is potentially attached to the photos they are sharing.
  • Investigate with your child the policy of the social network they use in regards to geotagging. At the time of writing, Facebook strips the EXIF data from uploaded photos and gives people the option of turning on or off geotagging when users make a post. Instagram automatically stores the data and makes it available to any user. Go into the settings of the account and turn this feature off.
  • There should be a settings option on every phone and tablet device that allows you to turn off geotagging of photos taken with that device. (On an iPhone or iPad go to ‘Settings’, ‘General’, ‘Location Services’)
  • Ensure any social network account that you set up is set to ‘Private’
  • Discuss with your child the importance of not ‘friending’ people they don’t know. Doing this negates any safety gained from making an account private. We have had students in Level 4 with over 1000 ‘friends’ on Instagram!

Once again, Kalinda recommends that parents follow the legal age guidelines of social network sites and not allow children under 13 to be using them. It is a lack of understanding around issues such as this that can be potentially dangerous for them.

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