As the new school season approaches we wanted to give you some BIG back to school tips regarding back to school photos and your social media:
We know that it’s very common for parents and teens to take pictures to document their first day of the school year – we’ve done it, too! What many people don’t know is that this can actually be very dangerous if you are not careful.
You’ve (hopefully) heard not to post pictures online while you’re on vacation because it could possibly lead to someone breaking in to your house, as your beach picture is a clear indicator that you are not home. But, did you know that when you leave your location settings turned on in your phone (specifically in your Camera and Photos apps), as well as any apps that access your pictures (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.), you’re actually leaving a digital mark on all your photos that gives others access to: the name of the phone the picture was taken on, possibly your name, the time and date, AND the location where the photo was taken. It’s called Metadata. This information can be easily accessed with a free metadata extraction website, like metapicz.com.
“Wait, what does any of that mean?”
Well, say you just took a picture of your kindergartner and her best friend in their school uniforms in front of your house on their first day of school. Your location settings are turned on your phone when you take the photo and when you post the picture on your favorite social media site with the caption, “Susie and Sallie’s first day of Kindergarten at Random Elementary School #firstdayofelementaryschool #babiesfirstdayofkindergarten,” and then you tag Sallie’s mom.
If Joe Q. Public sees your post and likes what he sees in your picture (i.e. two little girls), he can now save/copy your picture you just posted, drop it in the metadata extraction website, and now he knows where Susie lives and possibly even your name. On top of that, because of the caption, he now knows Susie and Sallie’s name, how old they are, and where they go to school because they are wearing their school uniforms in the picture. Because Sallie’s mom is also tagged in the photo, he can go to Sallie’s mom’s social media to find more pictures of Sallie, and possibly even repeat the exact same steps on her pictures to find out where Sallie lives. In addition, because you included hash tags about the first day of kindergarten and school, other people who are looking for pictures of children can Google or search for those same hash tags, and your child’s picture will most certainly show up.
“So what do I do?!”
1.Turn your phone location services off. Grab your phone. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Off.*
2a. If you need to leave your location services on for GPS or other reasons, open Location Services > Share My Location > toggle Share My Location to the left to ensure it is turned off.
2b. In location services, turn your Maps apps (i.e. Apple Maps, Google Maps, etc.) to
“While Using”. This will only allow GPS services to access your location while using that specific GPS app.
2c. Lastly and most importantly, you will have to manually turn all other apps under location services to “Never.” This will ensure that the apps NEVER access your location, including your camera and Photos app; this is important because if you were to only change those apps to “While Using,” metadata would still be shared.
“Now I’m afraid to post ANY pictures!”
Don’t be afraid! Use your discretion to decide what you will post, if you post anything at all. However, always remember that whatever you post online is made public and permanent as soon as it is published (that even includes Snapchat photos, even though they seem to disappear after 10 seconds!), so just choose carefully. Some people have made the decision not to engage in social media/posting online at all, or at least have decided not to include pictures of and/or information about their kids, while some people will still continue to post pictures, and that’s okay, too. Regardless of what you choose to do, we just urge you to use caution when posting online and you can begin by applying these simple tips listed above.
Questions? Ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for our internet safety training.
*Directions to turn off location settings is based on the iPhone; however, other smartphones should be similar. If you have trouble figuring out how to turn your location services off, email us and we will help you out!
The content of this post was learned at “The Dark Side of the Internet for Children and Youth” training, presented by Knoxville Police Department’s Training Specialist, Aubrey Maples.