Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pictures, Privacy and iPads

The iPad is a great tool for grabbing a quick picture to spice up my posts.  It was such an occasion that I was authoring another hit post (I think it was the best dog poop bag), and to my distress, the picture kept being rotated 90 degrees whenever I uploaded it to my Blogger site.  Being the curious sort and wanting to get to the root of the issue, a Google search turned up the underlying cause being something called "EXIF" which is metadata (attributes pertaining to your photo).   My usual practice is to snap the photo with my iPad, email it to my Gmail account then save it to my computer and upload to Blogger.  Sometimes I may touch up the photo and sometimes not.  On this occasion, I had not.  In my investigation, I went to my computer and right clicked, "Properties" to view the properties related to my iPad picture.  It was here that I experienced my wake up call, as clearly reflected among the data pertaining to that picture was the GPS coordinates where that photo was taken...

GPS has been altered for demonstration

Now, I have heard anecdotes of missing persons being found by photos, but I just figured that was the work of some sort of super geek who was able to somehow navigate the bowels of the file; certainly nothing that any normal person could ascertain.  Well, I was severely wrong!

The implications of this may not be immediately apparent to all; some may even think this is a good thing.  I would disagree.  Here's an example - what if you are selling something on Craig's list and an "interested" buyer contacts you and asks for more pictures.  You think, no big deal and snap 3 or 4 more pictures with your iPad (or iPhone) and then send them off thinking that your identity is still protected by Craig list's system of blinding the email address.  Then, 2 hours later, some psychopath is ringing your doorbell demanding to purchase your item.  I realize there are some die hards out there whom this would not faze, but what if it's your daughter who is newly on her own  living by herself in an apartment... it was her plan to meet the buyer at the mall for her safety.  Pretty scary.

So what to do?  Well, the first step is to turn the damned thing off in your iPad.  (You would think that the Apple masterminds would have the default setting be that it is turned off and must be turned on).  In your iPad Settings, go to "Privacy" then under "Location Services", set it to "OFF" for Camera - you may also want to set some of the others to "OFF" (but there are some that you will want "ON" - for example AroundMe locates restaurants, gas stations, etc in your location so it needs to be able to identify where you are to perform).  (Another cautionary note - if the IOS or individual App is updated, you should check this setting again - sometimes these updates have a bad habit of turning these settings back on, despite your wishes).

iPad 2 running IOS6; this may vary slightly, but concept should be similar

The good news is that in my informal testing of photos posted on Blogger and also in Craig's list, the full meta data (specifically the GPS) is not provided when you download the picture back to your computer.  I say this with reservation as if you "upload" a picture containing this information to a server, then the picture on the server still contains this information.  Thus, you are somewhat at the mercy of the server administrator to protect this data - policies can vary or change and certainly there may be some savvy enough out there to obtain this data so my long story short is that if you want to make sure that this information doesn't get released, you should take caution not to upload or post photos containing this information in the first place.

Unfortunately, I did not find a quick and easy way to resolve this issue with existing photos.  Specifically, what would be most desirable would be an easy way to remove this data from a batch (multiple) photos.  (I'm not interested in expensive software so "paid" solutions were not explored.)  This left remedying the situation individually.  First, I started with the obvious which was to click the link "Remove Properties and Personal Information" (shown in the top graphic of picture properties).  This did not work for me - I don't know if it was a limitation of my Vista Home version of the operating system or, more likely, due to "EXIF" being an Apple thing that Microsoft Windows wasn't able to address.  I did have some qualified success with Gimp; I say "qualified" as it was necessary to use the "Export" and then remove the check from the "Save EXIF data" box to accomplish this and as noted, this was on an individual photo (so a real pain, if you have 50 or so photos that you now need to "fix").

Other "qualified" successes were achived using Microsoft Picture Manager and exporting the picture to a different format OR a more barbaric method (not recommended) was to open the picture and then take a screen shot of the picture (picture of the picture).

While I love technology, one of my guiding tenets has been to use caution that technology does not outsmart you; so often I see instances in the relationship between individuals and technology where instead of the master using the tool, the tool has mastered the master.

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