This is an urgent message to all those moms and grandmas who think that it is cool to take pictures of their children and grandchildren and plaster them all over the social networks on the internet.  I get the concept that you are proud of your family members and their accomplishments, but do you ever stop to think that you may be an unwitting accomplice in the abduction and murder of your child or grandchild?  You need to wake up and realize that we live in a dangerous world and that there are people (pedophiles), right now, who are searching social media sites looking for potential victims.

Did you know that GPS location data can be recorded when you take a picture of your child? 

Here is how it works.  On this day, you (mom) decide to take your smart-phone and take some pictures of your darling little girl.  First group of photos are taken in your daughter’s bedroom, the next group of photos shows your daughter getting into your car.  You now drive to your daughter’s daycare center and take a couple of pictures as she enters the building.  You then head out to run some errands or you go to work.  Later, you pick your daughter up and take her to her favorite park to play on the playground equipment and take a few more pictures.  You now drive home and you, sometime later, post all the pictures on your favorite social media site.  Along with the pictures, you might add some written comments, like your daughter Ann  who  will soon be 5, had a wonderful day with mom and also include the fact, that next week, your husband and you will be out of town for a weeks’ vacation and grandma will be babysitting.

Everything that you did that day was very innocent and you did not do anything to put your little girl in harm’s way.  Right?

Well, here is the following information that you just unwittingly gave to a complete stranger.  First, he now has pictures of your little girl and he may be very attracted to her because she fits the image of what type of little girl that he likes.  Through the use of the GPS location data that is stored on the photos, Google maps, the photos themselves, and your commentary; he now knows your street address, the location of your house, the exact location of her bedroom, the layout of your yard, the color of your house, exact routes to your home and, more importantly, away from your house, and quickest routes to the interstates.  You also gave him information on the color, make, and model of your car, your daughter’s name and age, the locations of her daycare and favorite spot in the park where she likes to play, and most important, that you and your husband would be gone and (elderly) grandma would be taking care of your daughter.

You just gave this complete stranger the knowledge needed to abduct your child and also, given him many different locations to choose from to accomplish this task,

Here is another example.  When Adam Savage, one of the hosts of the popular science program “MythBusters,” posted a picture on Twitter of his car parked in front of his house, he not only let his fans know  that he drove a Toyota Land Cruiser.  Embedded in the image was a geotag, a bit of GPS data providing the longitude and latitude of where the photo was taken.  Hence, he revealed exactly where he lived.  And since the accompanying text was “Now it’s off to work,” potential thieves knew he would not be at home.

Geotagging is when a device such as an iPhone, Android smartphone, or digital camera stores your location or geographical information, such as your GPS coordinates, within a photo or movie file (such as .jpg or .mov files).  Geotags are useful in helping people find a wide variety of location-specific information.  For example, one can find images taken near a given location by entering latitude and longitude coordinates into a suitable image search engine.

The tricky thing about geo-tags is that they are invisible to the naked eye.   Geo-tags are part of the meta-data, or underlying data about the data, that accompanies each file.  The problem occurs when you or someone you may know are geo-tagging your photos and then uploading them to the internet – especially social media sites like Twitter.   When social media users take a picture or video and upload it to their page, they are probably transmitting far more data than they think.

Browser plug-ins and certain software programs can reveal the geotag location information of your photos and movies to anyone who wants to see it. Location information (GPS coordinates) stored inside photos can reveal your home address, work address, places you visit often, etc.  Geotags can make it very easy for people – friends, family, bosses, x-spouses, and parents – to know exactly where you are.

How to Protect Your Privacy and Disable Geotagging

iPhone – Go to Settings, General, Location Services. Here you can set which applications can access your GPS coordinates, or disable the feature entirely. If you use your GPS tracking your children’s whereabouts or to find local restaurants and services on the go – then don’t disable the features entirely.

BlackBerry – Click the camera icon, press the Menu button and choose “Options”. Set the “Geotagging” setting to “Disabled”. Save the updated settings.

Android –  Open the Camera application, select “Store Location” and set it to “Off”.

Facebook – removes geotags from uploaded photos, however other social networking sites do not. Look into your privacy settings and turn off location sharing.

Your Digital Camera and Mobile Phone – Make sure to turn off the location sharing settings in your camera and mobile phone. Be extra careful if you are uploading photos to a website where strangers will see them.

Remember that too much information may be harmful to those that you love the most and that your job as a mom or dad is to be protectors of your children.  There are just too many people, out there, whose intent is dangerous and the less they know about your family…the better.