EXIF Data in the News

Probably from morbid curiosity, I’ve been following the John McAfee story.  The story revolves around a murder of a neighbour and how the Belize police want to talk to McAfee about it.  There are many, many stories on the internet with all kinds of angles on it and so it’s difficult to know exactly where the truth lies.  The CBC has one reasonable sounding story.

Other than the bizarre story, I think my interest lies in the fact that I’ve used McAfee anti-virus software personally.  That would be whatever connection I have to this.

Things turned even more bizarre with reports that he is on the run and may or may not be tracked by the data stored in pictures.

Just which story (any or all of them) do you believe?

You can’t have a discussion these days about working online without dealing with privacy.  I think this news story is a perfect opening for discussing EXIF with students.  After all, most of them are packing mobile phones these days.  Do they know the information that they’re potentially sharing with the world beyond just the image?

I first learned about EXIF when I got my first Fuji point and shoot camera.  I’d never heard of it before and just assumed that it was a translation mistake and that they meant EXIT.  What a dummy!  But, reading through the manual, I learned that EXIF is actually a pretty important thing to know and understand.  If you don’t know, Wikipedia has a great explanation of Exchangeable Image File Format.  There are lots of great reasons why you’d want to use it.  But, if you’re concerned about your privacy, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not including it on images that you put online.

A picture is just a picture, right?  Not in this case.  There’s extra data embedded in it with the EXIF coding if you allow it or your camera/smartphone uses it.

Stories like this bring out the paranoid in me.  With all of the posting of pictures I do to Twitter or Facebook, am I sharing too much?  I quickly ran over to Facebook to look at a picture I shared.  How do you determine the EXIF data?  The easiest way, of course, is to use an online service.  In this case, I used FindEXIF.com.  

I checked first with one of their test images.

Yes, that’s definitely a great deal of information!  It definitely gives your location and, if you’re a serious photographer, there’s a tonne of information about the picture.  If you’re really interested, you can even identify the type and model of camera used.

If you’ve seen my photography abilities, you’ll know that most of that is lost on me.

Focus Doug, what about your pictures?

Check out this handsome devil.

There is no EXIF data.  So, that’s good news for his privacy!

So, how does one turn off the EXIF data on a photograph?  It’s actually pretty easy provided you can navigate to your picture settings.  If you’re concerned, you should spend the few minutes it will take to understand how to turn it on or off as per your needs.

What if you want to modify or remove data from an existing photo?  Here’s a pretty good article with some suggestions.

Of course, all of this discussion is moot if you’re using FourSquare or Facebook Check-in!

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2 thoughts on “EXIF Data in the News

  1. As usual, I am reminded why I read your posts, Doug. I had no idea (and my spouse is the photographer in the family, but he probably knows all about this, being a tech-savvy guy). I will be doing some reading, and taking a look at my little point and shoot. Thanks!

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