Pictures you’ve e-mailed or uploaded from your smartphone could be leaking location information threatening your safety or that of your children.
“Perfect, just like that,” cooed NBC Action News staffer Susanne McDonald to her four-year-old daughter Laine as she took a series of smartphone pictures. “Ready? One, two, three! Good Girl.”
Our 2NEWS sister station, KSHB, loaned McDonald and Laine a smartphone to see just how threatening a seemingly innocent snapshot could be once loaded online.
Some police are concerned
“It's frightening,” said Leawood School Resource Police Officer Mark Chudik when shown what had been uncovered.
Staffers combed Twitter and sites like Facebook , Craig's List, and Photobucket .
They searched by entering the names of cities. Employees easily identified the home addresses and play areas of children whose pictures were posted by their parents.
“That is legitimately terrifying,” said McDonald when shown her information obtained from pictures she posted of daughter Laine.
It's a new and frightening threat to parents.
The full risk is even an unknown to many internet crime experts, like Chudik, who said he’d never seen private information shared so quickly in such an unknown manner.
He calls the hidden smartphone data today's biggest risk online.
“It's probably going to be number one for a while,” Chudik said.
The technique involves free, easily available software
Chudik used a free browser add-on to click on pictures of four-year-old Laine.
He not only found her home when he clicked on a picture of her bedroom, but located her day care, favorite fast food shop, and the specific part of the park where she plays.
At UMKC, computer science Professor Deep Medhi says smartphones leave a high-tech invisible trail using the same geotracking technology that enables the social website Foursquare and handheld map apps.
“Exactly like in your GPS device in your car,” Medhi said. “When you do it, it can tell you exactly where it is.”
Medhi showed how the easily-obtained software can translate geotagged photos, uploaded or linked from popular websites, into maps.
“Exactly that spot where that picture was taken,” Medhi said.
A website that lists how to deactivate geotagging on the iPhone, Blackberry with GPS, Google Android, and Palm WebOS, recommends restricting which applications can access GPS marking, or turning off location services altogether, in your smartphone settings.
“You want to be able to do it almost on a picture basis,” Medhi said.
“I don't think you can think of anything worse than a stranger knowing all that information,” said Officer Chudik.
Experts say you can still be perfectly safe by turning off GPS settings before taking pictures you plan to post online and by keeping your online photo servers restricted to private.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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