Awareness urged with geotagging photo location technology

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on August 17, 2010 at 9:55 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 18 at 3:31 PM

FORT WORTH - If you post pictures on the Internet, you could be broadcasting your information, not with words, but with hidden data anyone with free software can see.

The knowledge has some local domestic violence shelters on high alert.

It can seem so innocent. You're out and about and you spot a colorful horse and decide to take a picture with your phone camera to share with friends. Pictures can post to Twitter instantly. While there may be no signs or words pinpointing where the picture was taken, that posted photo can essentially give technology savvy stalkers all the information they need to figure out the location.

"Abusers are crazy," said Mary Beth Kopsovich, with SafeHaven of Tarrant County. "They want to hurt their victims."

Here's how it works. Many smart phones such as Blackberrys, iPhones and Droids have the ability to implant hidden data in the picture that gives the exact location of where it was taken, including longitude and latitude. You may not have any idea it's there unless you use software designed to allow you to click and uncover that information.

Staffers at SafeHaven of Tarrant County fear the technology could be used to find clients and even shelters. They began spreading the word around the state when they learned about the geotagging technology this month.

"With this type of technology, I think our victims are in more danger and I think it's more of a lethality situation than it was before," said Donna Guion, SafeHaven's legal services director.

As word spreads, pictures are coming down.

"That is just really scary to me because you feel like anybody can find you and you don't have any kind of sense of privacy," said Anya, a domestic violence survivor who talked with WFAA by phone. "It makes me not want to put any pictures out there."

A website called I Can Stalk U displays examples of what geotagging can reveal, and includes instructions for changing the settings on your own phone. 

For more information on SafeHaven of Tarrant County, go to http://www.safehaventc.org/
 

E-mail: chawes@wfaa.com

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