Does Photo Metadata reveal info about you?

What is Photo Metadata and What details does a simple photo clicked on your smartphone reveal about you and the device?

Today, social media websites like Facebook and Instagram, have become part of our everyday lives. We spend hours together on these platforms looking at various posts, be it photos or videos, posted by our loved ones or the ones we follow on these platforms. Most of us also like to post our day-to-day activities like the places we visit, the food we cook etc. on to these social media platforms for the world to see. But have you ever wondered what details do these images and videos share on the internet?

Most of us own a smartphone and smartphones are equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System functionality). When turned on, the device can accurately detect your location with an accuracy of ±5 metres. Most of us leave this feature on and our location is constantly being updated in the background. So when we snap a photo on our smartphone, the location at which the photo was taken also gets attached to the photo. Apart from the location, a few more details are added to the photo and these details are called Photo Metadata.

What is Photo Metadata?

In definition, photo metadata is a set of data describing what an image is and provides information on an image. This data is attached to an image which is then understood by computers and humans. For example, Google image search uses a photo’s metadata to show a particular image on Google for a particular keyword. When you go to Google Images and search Ciphernet, you can see that the website logo appears in the first few results. This is because the logo, has a metadata description as “Ciphernet” which allows it to be indexed on Google when searched for that keyword.

Photo Metadata has three main categories :

  • Descriptive
  • Rights
  • Administrative

Descriptive metadata contains information of the contents of the image. For example, if the image is of an Apple, the descriptive metadata will have the description “Apple” inside it. Information of names of people, companies, artwork or products can be added as metadata. The descriptive metadata can have multiple words too to describe various objects or people within an image.

The Rights metadata usually contains information of the device that it is captured on. The rights are used to identify the creator and copyright of the image. This category can contain details such as the device model number, the camera resolution, the camera lens used, manufacturer of the device and so on.

Administrative metadata contains information of the time and location of the image. Since most smartphones have GPS functionality, the metadata stores the location and time of the image when it was snapped.

What does a Photo Metadata look like?

For an example of what an image metadata looks like, here is a photo taken on my phone and some of the metadata attached to it.

photo metadata

As you can see, the metadata reveals information on the device that I am using, the resolution of the camera, whether or not the flash was used to take the picture, the date and time at which the image was taken and so on. It is relatively easy to find the photo metadata. There are online metadata viewers and downloadable softwares that can extract this information from an image. For this demonstration, i used a website called Jeffrey Friedl’s Image Metadata Viewer. If you also want to check the metadata of images from your gallery, you can visit this website by clicking here.

Why and how to remove metadata from an image?

Since a photo metadata reveals a lot of information about your location and your device, it is not safe to put that information on the internet for the world to see. There are online tools (websites) or softwares and applications that you can download on your devices that will remove all the metadata from an image.

For comparison, here is the metadata of the same image that was seen above, after the metadata has been removed. As you can see, none of the device details or any other details, for that matter, is revealed through this image now. The quality of the image remains unchanged while only the metadata details are removed.

To remove metadata from photos, we can use online browser based tools such as EXIF (Metadata) Remover Online tool or Jeffrey’s Friedl’s Image Metadata Viewer. There are also applications available for Android and iOS to remove metadata from the photos. The remove metadata app can be used on phones running on Android and Exif Metadata app can be used on phones running on iOS. Softwares for Windows and MacOS such as ExifTool by Phil Harvey can also be downloaded remove metadata.

Without Photo Metadata

Conclusion

There have been numerous instances where the data revealed through the images that people post on social media, have been used to target and attack them. Here is an extremely interesting article on how analysing the metadata of an image, proved that a wife was found faking multiple abuse incidents. Click here to read the article. Hence, It is always a good practice to remove the metadata of an image before posting it to your social media accounts.It only takes a few minutes to remove the photo metadata, but it makes the images you share online, a lot more safer.

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