I watched a segment on the 11PM news the last night about the dangers of Geo tagging. In summary, the exif data on your phone is likely storing your location as you snap a photo if your phone or camera has a GPS function. Once the photo is uploaded, the viewer can determine your exact location at the time that the photo was taken, and if so inclined, shuffle down to your location and murder you.
The news caster did some tests on her own. She found some pictures online, determined the location, an confronted the innocent yet-to-be-murdered photographers. The people were shocked that anyone could see their location and hunt them down. They determined that they would change their posting habits in the future and that this exercise scared them straight.
The problem I have with this is simple. No one really wants to murder you. No one wants to take your patio furniture and color television. No one wants to steal your precious 4 year old. And if they did, your Facebook photo is unlikely the catalyst or the one thing preventing the crime. This is one of the rare cases where the old-school methods work best. If your car isn’t home between the hours of 9 to 5 then you likely have a day job and your house is unoccupied. This is clearly evident by looking at your driveway which has the geo tag of right-the-f-in-front-of-you if the geo-criminal is on your street. I’m sure a simple search on Linked-In can determine who is likely to be away during US business hours. If your car is home, you are a prime target to be murdered. I refuse to believe that a geo tagged photo showing the victim still breathing is enough to fuel the criminal to try and change this simply because they know your whereabouts at a specific point of time.
The newscast didn’t mention murder, and I understand I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is the degree of fear they attempted to convey. They went on to mention that people could learn your patterns and daily behavior based on the geo information. My argument it still the same however. Nobody really wants to victimize you because they know you exist, digitally. I’m not trying to naively suggest the world is a flowery safe place either, but there are millions of other ways to become victimized. The phone book once told the world of everyone’s address and phone number before forming mountains of advertising waste for future skiers and identity theft specialists.
Most of the world doesn’t know that you exist. If they wanted to murder you, or steal your stuff, they could, but in general, they don’t want to. I wonder if that notion is scarier than thinking the world is out to get my kids and my stuff. It’s a paranoid, fear-dripping mindset that I refuse to subscribe to.
I did a quick search to see the list of crimes already committed by this hidden danger. I found the following quote; “…DA’s office is not aware of any crimes it has prosecuted stemming from geotagging — but he admits, “it is only a matter of time.” I don’t disagree with this. It is only a matter of time before someone is victimized due to geo tagging, if it hasn’t happened already, but it doesn’t seem as wide-spread as the news and dozens of scare/filler articles on the web would lead you to believe. It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed by a creepy robot, but I’m not carrying an EMP in my pocket. The most realistic threat I found as a direct result of geo tagging is the unlikely chance that a news caster will come to your house to warn you of the imminent dangers that await you.
But to be fair there are two exceptions to this that I can think of. First, if you’re a celebrity and concerned about stalking you should probably disable geo tagging on your phone. I imagine that part of the thrill in stalking comes from the challenge, and you don’t want to just give the answers away by snapping a pic of your uniquely-named child. Second, if you’re part of a gang or wanted by police it’s unwise to use geo tagging. How ironic would it be to be caught murdering your geo tagging victim because you tweeted the crime-scene photo and forgot to de-select the geo tagging function?