How your location can be discovered from a photo you post on Facebook

Most digital cameras record the GPS coordinates of a photo you take in the EXIF metadata. This means that anyone you share a photo with can learn exactly where (and when) the photo was taken. In addition, there are other ways in which you can be located from photos you post online.

When you share a photo on Facebook the EXIF location data is automatically removed from the photo before it’s included in the post, which is good news for many adoptive parents. But for how long this protection may continue is uncertain, as it has been successfully challenged in court.

While removing the EXIF location meta data from photos reduces the likelihood of the location where you took the photo being discovered, but it doesn’t remove the problem completely. There are plenty of other ways your photo location can be identified from photos you post on Facebook.

Child in park with back to camera

Suppose for example, you post a photo of you playing with your child in the playground of your local park.The most likely scenario is that one of your friends will inadvertently give away the location in a comment to the post or by sharing the photo and tagging you. Alternatively, you’ll eventually give away your location not in a single post but from the cumulative drip, drip of information over time.

Secondly, someone can use Google Reverse Image Search to find the location. All they have to do is upload the image to Google which will recognize and display any similar photos on the web. For example other photos of the park that people have put on the web. Or if you are in the photo maybe Google finds another photo of you on the web – perhaps a work photo. Any of these photos can reveal location through EXIF information in the photo itself. In addition, photos posted on the web contain text information placed in an ALT field that is intended to help visitors with visual impairments. So the name of the park may be available from the ALT field, or simply from text on the page where the photo is displayed.

Thirdly, someone can simply post your photo on their profile and ask their friends if they recognize and can name the park for them. If the post gets shared, it can be successful and takes minimal effort.

Further reading

Conclusion

So removing EXIF data does not really remove the problem. Instead you can read how to remove location data here.

If you do use Facebook, rather than post to your general profile, you can reduce the risk by setting up a Secret Group and consider which of your friends you allow to be members – maybe only you and the birth family are included. Sharing from a secret group is also not as straightforward to do.

You have to weigh up the risk and decide what you need to do for your circumstances. Some families for whom the risks are high don’t post or email any photos. Instead they share pictures their child has drawn (for example of playing in the park).

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