The geo tagging feature on your smart phone can be a very cool way of allowing people to know where you took a beautiful scenery picture, attended an interesting event, or even serve you as a digital road map to locations associated with fun experiences you’ve had over the years in just a few clicks of the mouse or touches of the screen on your phone. Geo tagging makes it easier for you to arrange photos and let friends know where they might be able to replicate some enjoyable experience you had.

As with most modern technological conveniences, there is also risk to consider when using your Geo tag capabilities.  Primary amongst these is the risk of “social surveillance.”   Most of us who use social media regularly are familiar with social stalkers.  These modern creepers make use of the information you publish on social media pages in order to track your movement, your habits, and your associations.  Stalkers can make use of public geo tagging information to pinpoint your present location, find out where you live, and even how and where you spend your time with very little effort. This very fun feature of modern smart phones can also potentially put your safety and security at risk, depending on who you are, and the value to anyone who might want to track your movements.

The point is not to scare you, but to note the risks and be wary.  It pays to know the risks, and have an air of caution when using this feature.   Avoiding the risks of geo tagging is definitely something consumers need to be wary of as privacy continues to erode in our ever more electronically connected society.  What follows are a few best practices to keep you safe while geo tagging.

  1. Take the time to note your default privacy settings: This applies both to your smart phone or mobile device and the social media networks you access through your device.  To geo tag something is simply attaching GPS grid coordinates to a picture, video, website or text message.  Sometimes tagging a location maybe a default setting on your phone or on the social network you’re using.  It is important to be aware of these settings so you can consciously decide when and where you geo tag, and who the information will be available to.
  2. Understand the Risk:  Realize that geo tagging information gives anyone who views it the opportunity to know your exact whereabouts, particularly in instances where you’ve posted your location to multiple sites (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).  A check-in at the airport with the message “vacation for the next week!” for example lets anyone who might care to look know that you’ll be out of town for a week.  If you’ve also been geo-located at your place of residence in the past this information could be very valuable to a thief looking for an opportune time to break in.  Additionally, if you use the geo tag feature regularly, it can also give others an understanding of your movement patterns, which will give anyone with an interest in stalking you a picture of your routine, allowing them to predict where you will be and when.  Be aware of who in your network will have access to this information, as it’s possible that not all of them are really your “friends.”
  3. Know How to Disable the Geo Tagging Feature: Every smartphone has a geo tag feature, and many of them will be automatically set up to function without you consciously choosing to have it do so.  You need to take the time to figure out how to prevent it from doing this.  It’s a much better idea to consciously decide to geo tag each time you post rather than having to remember to opt out of geo tagging each time you post.  Leaving the default setting as geo tag operational will likely mean there will be times when you inadvertently post your location to the world when it is risky or unnecessary to do so.

For iPhones: Go to the “settings” page of the geo-tagging program.  Go to “settings” then “general” and then “location services.”  Disable those applications that automatically make use of your GPS tracking data.

For Android Platforms:  Start the camera application.  Open the menu and go to “settings.”  Turn off “geo tagging” or “location storage” (depending on the type of Android).

For digital cameras, be sure to consult the user manual.  Not all digital cameras come with a geo tagging feature, but it’s important you know how your particular camera operates in relation to location tracking.

“Geo Tagging and Do Not Track” was written by Matt Davis.  Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.