Consumer Reports: Do your online photos put your privacy at risk?

Consumer Reports has revealed how the photos you post online may contain surprising hidden data that could put you or your family at risk.

When you look at a picture of a boy sitting at a table all you see on the surface is him playing with a bowl and spoon. But if you download that photo, you get much more information, such as: The picture was taken using an iPhone 5 at 4:08pm on June 28, 2015 in Norwalk, Connecticut. In fact, we know the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.

"So, when you take a photo with a digital camera or a phone, details about things like when, where, and how the images are created are captured and stored automatically in the file in what's called Exif data, which is short for Exchangeable Image File Format," said Thomas German, Consumer Reports Tech Editor.

That information travels with the photo whether you're posting it online or sharing it via email or text. So a warning, for instance, if you're selling something online and you email or text a photo directly to a buyer you don't know. If you took the photo at your house, that stranger now knows exactly where you live.

The good news is that many sites including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Craigslist remove Exif data for you, so it won't be available to the people who see your photos on those platforms.

"We spoke to the popular social media companies and they all told us that Exif data isn't used for advertising purposes. But some companies like Facebook and Twitter do say they use Exif data for analytics and other business purposes," Germain said.

Exif data can be very useful for your personal use. When you store photos in Google Photos or iCloud Photos, the data is preserved so you can search for photos by date and location, although both services do allow you to remove location data from individual photos if you prefer.

And you can remove the Exif Data from your photos altogether. For advice from Consumer Reports on how to do that, CLICK HERE.
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