Say Cheese! Keep Your Digital Photos from Revealing Your Location

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but some can also pinpoint you on a map—even if you’d prefer otherwise. Just ask Internet security mogul John McAfee, creator of the famous McAfee Virus Scan software. He’s the poster boy that illustrates how data embedded in digital photographs can lead to big trouble. And here’s his story of Betrayal by Photo.
After making millions from the sale of his software company, the eccentric McAfee left the rat race and built a beachfront pleasure palace in Belize. There the sexagenarian reportedly experimented with drugs, entertained young women, kept noisy dogs, and generally did his own thing. He admits his dogs annoyed the community, including his closest neighbor Gregory Faull, who often complained about the constant barking.
When Faull was found murdered in 2012, the Belize authorities fingered McAfee (whom they considered a gun-toting, drug-crazed madman) as a prime suspect.
McAfee hightailed it out of Belize to avoid arrest, using his fame and press connections to make highly publicized jabs at the police along the way. These  taunts included an article in the online publication Vice Magazine titled, We Are With John McAfee Right Now, Suckers. The story featured a picture of McAfee on the lam at an undisclosed jungle location.
Within hours of his photo being posted online, authorities homed in on McAfee’s precise location — in Guatemala — because the magazine forgot to remove the picture’s embedded GPS metadata. When photographer Robert King snapped the photo on his iPhone, the device imprinted it with the coordinates of a pool-side restaurant at the Parque Nacional Rio Dulce. While McAfee sipped cool drinks and basked in the jungle paradise, Guatemalan police moved in for the arrest.
Metadata is simply data that tells more about other data. In the case of photographs, metadata embedded in an image is called EXIF data. This EXIF data can include details like the kind of camera used, a time stamp for the photograph, and GPS coordinates of the place where the photo was taken. These location coordinates (“geotags”) can often be viewed by simply right clicking on a photograph and examining its properties. Continue reading

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