Metadata is the invisible monster that lives in your files, taking note of every move you make. If metadata were a human being, they would definitely fall into the “creepy” category. Although people are wising-up to the presence of metadata in text-centric documents, it is still usually overlooked in the case of JPEG photographs and other image-based objects.
So someone’s tracking my photos?
The unseen data captured by your camera is known as EXIF data (Exchangeable Image File Format). This comprises of an extra file attached to a JPEG being written into your device’s storage, which includes the date and time at which the photos were taken, the shutter setting details, and the program it was edited on. If you were using a smart phone or capable camera, even the GPS data of the location they were taken at may be recorded.
Why does this matter?
In 2012, a foolish Burger King employee regretted being oblivious to EXIF data when he posted a picture to online forum 4Chan of him standing in a lettuce tub captioning it “this is the lettuce you eat”. Understandably, other 4Chan users didn’t take too kindly to this, and three Burger King Employees were eventually fired after the specific branch was traced via the GPS data embedded in the image.
Conversely, Australian photographer Jon Grundy was able to use photo metadata to his advantage after a thief broke into his house and stole equipment worth $15,000. The game was up when the burglar began publishing images taken on his “new” equipment online and another photographer noticed the artist details noted in the EXIF data still read “Jon Grundy”. The thief was arrested and charged, and Grundy was able to get his gear back. A happy ending!
Nonetheless, with a growing mobile workforce and the widespread use of social media, the importance of maintaining privacy is increasingly important. It is definitely advisable to remove EXIF metadata before sharing photos online, just to be on the safe side. And if these details still look arbitrary to you, you might want to note that EXIF data can increase a photo’s file size, taking up precious bandwidth on your website.
I don’t like the sound of that
Believe it or not, removing this kind of metadata is actually pretty simple. Windows allow you to remove properties from photos manually by viewing photo information and erasing each variable individually. However, Windows have had difficulty cleaning GPS coordinates from EXIF metadata; the one thing you may be the most anxious to be rid of. In this case (or if you are a Mac user), employing third-party metadata removal software can help you be sure files are cleaned of metadata, so no unwanted information is shared with your image.
Related blog post: “What is Metadata? The Anatomy of a Risky Document”