Your Online Posts Could Be Revealing More Than You Realize
TULSA, Oklahoma - We have a warning for anyone who has ever taken a picture with a smart phone and posted it online. Strangers can find out the exact location that picture was taken, and use it to figure out where you and your children go frequently.
Most people don't want strangers to know where they live, where their kids go to school or where their favorite park is, but we were able to do just that.
The people we talked to had no idea it was possible.
Kristie Webb is a News On 6 producer, who loves to take pictures of her kids and post them online. It's her way of sharing their lives with her family out of state.
Like most moms do, she worries about her kids' safety and believes she's taking all the right precautions. Which is why she was so shocked we found where her pictures were taken, even a map that showed us their exact location.
Lori Fullbright: "We found this picture of your kids outside playing and discovered it was at 101st and Sheridan. Is that where you took that picture?"
Kristie Webb: "Uh, yeah, that's my kids' school."
Fullbright: "We also, it looked like they went to vacation Bible school recently, and these were taken at 71st and Mingo."
Webb: "Yes, how did you--Yeah."
Fullbright: "Did you know someone could find the exact location of your kids online just by the pictures you've taken?"
Webb: "I had no idea. That is so scary."
Most people we talked to didn't know there is a lot of hidden data in pictures posted online. It's called metadata and it can potentially put you and your family at risk.
"All I do all the time is tell my kids, 'Don't talk to strangers, don't go anywhere with a stranger,' things like that. That scares me to know what I'm doing is making them available to somebody," Webb said.
"A lot of that information is being passed without your knowledge," said Gavin Manes.
Manes runs a computer forensics company in Tulsa, called Avansic, that specializes in tracking down digital data. That hidden data can tell people all kinds of things about us, even when we don't want them to know it.
Such was the case with John McAfee, the computer anti-virus guru. He was on the run from police and the media a few years ago and claimed to be in hiding in Belize.
But someone took and posted a picture of him and the metadata gave away his true location.
"If we look at the image information or the metadata in that information, we can see it was taken with an iPhone 4. Scroll down to GPS location. In this case, we'll look at it with Google maps. We start zooming out and we realize he's actually in Guatemala, not Belize," Manes said.
Whitney Allen is a retired sergeant with the child crisis unit, who knows full well what lengths some people will go to find and hurt children.
She takes tons of pictures of her kids and posts them online. Even she didn't know these seemingly innocent pictures could lead someone to the places she and her kids frequent.
Fullbright: "We found out specifically you took that picture in Bixby, is that correct?"
Fullbright: "We found out they were practicing baseball and you took that picture at Union."
Fullbright: "At Union High School. And found another one, were you in Skiatook when you took that one?"
Allen: "Yes, we were."
Fullbright: "Aren't you surprised we can find your exact location with just a picture?"
Allen: "That is scary. You teach your kids safety and think you're being safe with just having friends on your different pages, but to find the exact location, that is scary."
Experts say technology is often a trade-off between convenience and security. Metadata may help you remember when and where you took a picture, but it also opens you up to being tracked.
They say the more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
"I think it's important for people to know. A lot of times, you don't even think about what you're doing," Allen said. "You put it on there and don't think of the consequences, but you don't need to advertise where your kids are, what they're doing."
Some web sites no longer allow the metadata in pictures to be seen, but rather than trying to figure out which ones do or don't, just change the settings in your phone, then you don't have to worry about it.
To do that on an iPhone, go to settings, then privacy, then location services. You don't want to turn them all off, because you need it for maps and weather apps, but go to camera and turn it off there and you're good. For other types of phones, you'll need to research how to turn it off.