It goes without saying that, in this day and age, there are privacies we give up regardless of how shallow our social media footprint. If you’re reading this, chances are your footprint is a bit deeper, be it as a blogger or via some other social sharing platform.

Social media, you’re making extroverts out of us all.

From the images you upload to your blog to the Foursquare check-ins you post to twitter, sharing can turn into oversharing very quickly, and often by accident. It’s why I believe in reading the fine print, considering what and how you post and, ultimately, deciding what’s in your comfort zone.

Do you know what your metadata is telling people about you? From geotags to EXIF data just what are you sharing?

It goes a step further when we overshare what isn’t ours to share to begin with (often unknowingly).  Or worse, when third party apps misuse the data they’re provided by social sharing site APIs.


I think opinions on geotags basically fall into three categories:

1. Those who enjoy sharing where they are.
2. Those who don’t see any value in sharing where they are.
3. Those that have no idea they’re sharing where they are.

As I asked people for their take on geotags, and why they do or don’t use them, those having no idea how much they were truly sharing began to outweigh those with strong opinions in either direction for or against. Those who shared didn’t realize to what extent. Those who didn’t share were unaware they still might be.

FACT: Geotags use longitude and latitude coordinates to identify where you are when you take a photo if you’ve enabled any location settings – much in the same way Foursquare or Facebook can share where you’re having lunch. It’s embedded in a ton of images posted online. And yet, so many posting their photos don’t realize what their images are actually sharing.

Even without geotags, EXIF data (image metadata) can be quite extensive – down to every edit you made on an image in Photoshop, the serial number of your camera or lens and, depending on your location settings, the GPS coordinates of where a shot was taken.

FACT: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook,* amongst others, strip metadata to protect location information from the public unless you opt-in to sharing your location via geotags.

*If you’ve made location settings available to Facebook on your phone, for example, your mobile posts could share more than you realized.


With most GPS data coming from camera photos, the easiest way to ease concerns is to turn off location setting for your phone’s camera.

Here is a very easy breakdown on how to do that on Apple, Droid, Palm and Blackberry devices via I Can Stalk U, a site created expressly for the purpose of making “people aware that they are posting this information when they are sending out photos and giving them options on how to disable that functionality.”

Curious to find out just what your pictures are telling people? I suggest using a site like Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer, to view your own blog posts and see what you’re actually posting.

If you want to post images minus embedded data, you have a number of options, from EXIF stripping apps to Photoshop. Metadata can also help protect your images online and make it possible for you to claim your work, so losing it isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. One option that could make for a happy medium is to remove the data and simply watermark your images. What makes you feel most comfortable?


From Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare, we can tell people what movie theatre we’re at or what hotel we’re relaxing at poolside – with or without photos. It’s a personal choice as to whether you want to share this info, but geotagging others shouldn’t be done without permission.

I’ve attended a few events in people’s homes or their kid’s school where they asked that people not post photos online. Some people were annoyed. I’m not sure why.

We can become so caught up in our La Vie En Rose, Instagram-filtered lives to sometimes stop and think before we shoot.

Whether people want their event to remain intimate or if the thought crossed their minds that someone posting candids could tell the world where they live or go to school, I don’t know. I’m guessing people want guests to be guests and not documentarians. Yet I wonder if more people would request no photos if they understood how much a photo can share?

RULE: If it’s not a social media event, don’t assume others want it to become one. If you’re in someone else’s home or at their event, it’s a good idea to get their OK before sharing their private space with your public network. It’s a must to ask them if you plan to geotag your whereabouts.

Sharing is further complicated when third party APIs get access to this data. As I’ve said before, just because developers can make something it doesn’t mean they should.

Developers don’t necessarily have the right to share your location just because you’ve shared it elsewhere. But many, like Foursquare, make their API available to third party site developers who don’t necessarily follow the Terms of Service. The Girls Around Me app was an example of geotags gone wrong in the hands of a third party developer.

Meanwhile, on the legitimate app front, the newly launched Facebook Nearby Friends takes the check-ins and locations friends share and maps them only if you opt-in. I’m not sure how popular it is, but on the homepage they include a link to press about the app, including this ReadWriteWeb piece “Nearby Friends: New Cyber-Stalking App for Tracking Facebook Places Check-Ins.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The Girls app is probably not going to be the last to misuse information, but we can learn from it. Make sure you share geotagged data in a way that makes you comfortable and respects others. It might be worthwhile telling less tech-savvy friends and relatives how to disable location settings on their camera phones, too.

Undershare, overshare or anything in between, but do so in a way that lets you call the shots.

4 thoughts on “If Emily Posted: On Geotags and Your Privacy

  1. Sara at Saving For Someday

    Excellent information, Alex. I think more people need to understand exactly how these apps and smart devices really work, especially when it comes to our children and our own safety. I’m immediately reminded of the young woman who was documenting her solo sailing journey who was attacked and sexually assaulted recently because the perpetrator was following her on her blog and social media.

    Much of the chatter and photo uploading seems innocuous. While there are excellent reasons to keep these geotags and metadata embedded, there are just as many where the privacy concerns are paramount.

    It’s not even “scary” situations to consider. But how about those times where your boss follows you on twitter or foursquare or instagram and you go to lunch for a job interview, or where you’re buying a gift for the wife/girlfriend but will wait awhile to give it, or even planning a wonderful surprise party.

    At the same time, I foresee organizations using the information to deny benefits, terminate or sue people.

    The implications of the location tags are far-reaching. Thanks for the terrific explanation.

    1. alexandra Post author

      Sara, when a post gets your seal of approval, my day is made. Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughts on the subject. I have fewer concerns of danger as a result of this data but rather the collective repercussions. The legal issues you bring up I had yet to consider but I can already imagine many scenarios.

  2. the Blah Blah Blahger

    Did you hear about the King of Norway’s step-grandson? He’s 15 and has been using Instagram and tagging his location. Their security detail just went ape over this and shut down his account. The media is accusing the young boy of threatening the safety of the monarchy. It’s pretty sad and another account of how people just don’t know what they’re putting out there…

  3. Pingback: PHOTOS OF YOU: Instagram Thinks A Thousand Words Isn't Enough | Alexandra Wrote

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