Metadata is data about data. And understanding the flow of data — where it comes from and to whom it’s shared is important when we talk about privacy. Think of it as the tags you add on to each tweet. It’s not really part of the tweet itself but it helps identify the tweet as part of a trend. Metadata isn’t as innocuous as you’d think though as sometimes they reveal much more than what you intended to reveal.
Did you know that the pictures you take with your smartphone also store your geolocation?
You can see the GPS coordinates of where this photo was taken. A quick Google Maps lookup shows that this was taken at this location.
Yup, this was a photo taken in Dusit. Sharing this photo also meant that I was sharing my location.
Removing EXIF data
Fortunately, removing this data is pretty simple.
Check your phone’s settings to see which apps are using your GPS or Location Services.
In this screenshot from an iPhone, choose “Never” for the Camera app.
For Android, it’s a little bit trickier since different models, have different Android flavors and apps. But in my phone, I found it in my camera app’s settings:
You can turn if off in this screen or in a similar screen.
Second, Strip before sharing
The second way of removing metadata is by stripping it off after you take the picture (or at least before you share).
Stripping data on the mobile device itself
On an iPhone:
- Open the photo in the ‘Photos’ app
- Before you share, at the top of the screen, tap ‘Options’
- Turn off ‘Location’ and ‘All Photos Data’
- Tap ‘Done’
- Share the photo as you would normally
On an Android, again the process changes depending on your OS/manufacturer.
I would recommend doing it via an app – ObscuraCam by the Guardian Project. The app itself is open-source and the organization that made it, the Guardian Project, is known for creating free open-source apps that are made specially for journalists, activists, or privacy-conscious citizens.
Stripping data on your desktop machine
In Windows, just right-click the file and choose Properties. You’ll see the information on the photo and click on the link that says “Remove Properties and Personal Information:”
On OSX, you can follow these instructions:
- Open the photo using ‘Preview’
- Go to ‘Tools’ in your menu
- Select ‘Show Inspector’
- Select the (i) tab
- Click the ‘Exif’ tab and remove the data
So why is the data there in the first place
Now, having all that data there isn’t all bad. From a functionality point of view, there’s some potentially cool applications with seeing data. For example, the iPhone has a COVID-19 tracking functionality in their latest OS update — it can notify you if you may have been exposed to the virus.
Aside from that, the metadata also attests to the veracity of the photo. Let’s say I was trying to prove that I wasn’t in a rally defending human rights because I was eating in Dusit, the metadata can help prove that that is indeed the case.
It’s okay. I have nothing to hide.
Knowledge is power. You have seen how the media (social and traditional) can manipulate you simply because they know what makes you tick. If you hand over all your information, you are simply enabling a power imbalance with you on the losing end.
Privacy is a right. Protect it.
This is the first article in my series about Privacy. With the rise of social media and authoritarian governments, privacy has slowly changed from becoming a right to a privilege. This series aims to help people understand how to keep a more private profile online.
EJ Arboleda is a guest writer for MommyGinger.com. He is the CEO of Taxumo Inc, an avid fan of technology, a paranoid android user, an influencer’s chubby hubby, and proud dad to a whipsmart little girl.