GPS Gaffe — Photos reveal more than you realize

IMG 6553Many outdoorsmen have favorite hunting or fishing spots they want to keep secret.

Maybe it’s an unassuming grass line on a lake which big bass frequent or a small cutover on a Wildlife Management Area unknown to other hunters. The hunter or angler who finds success may snap a picture of the lunker or buck with his smartphone, and, if that picture is posted online, his hidden spot may not be unknown for long.

According to photographymad.com, exchangeable image file format, or EXIF data, is information saved by a camera so the photographer can review shutter speed, exposure and other settings to improve their pictures. Location information is often recorded because it helps organize photos by scene or track the shots on a map.

When individuals post photos with this information on public websites, they could be displaying more than they intended.

“Information is encrypted in the file, and what it’s showing you is what kind of camera is used, when it was taken, sometimes even where it was taken,” said a special operations game warden for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who requested to remain anonymous.

Law enforcement knows about the ability to pull information from a picture, and it can jump-start an investigation, he said.

“We are definitely aware of it, and we have used it,” he said. “It’s helped us make several cases. It’s pretty much a tool to start an investigation.”

A picture posted online with an over-harvest of deer or over-possession of fish can be as effective in building a case as seeing the act in real-life, he said.

“You can ask, ‘Is this you in the picture?’ and you can’t really deny that it’s you,” he said.

Dishonest individuals who are not necessarily out to break a law can also take advantage of the information with access to the right program.

A fishing guide who has special spots on a lake can unknowingly be exploited by a customer who may want to come back later, and this could be something for a guide to worry about, said Lake Tawakoni guide Greg Clark of Three Seas Guide Service.

“It could be a problem. It could be an issue,” he said, “But fish change so much it might not really matter.”

Some guides are more secretive of their spots and don’t allow handheld GPS markers on the trip, but that may not be good enough, according to Clark.

“There’s not always a lot of landmarks on the lake, and a guide may say ‘No GPS,’ but the guy just turns around and snaps a picture of the bottom of the boat or the air, and he’s got it,” Clark said.

Even recreational fishermen may give away a good spot.

“On forums, a lot of the guys will black out the background where they’re fishing, and that might not even matter,” he said.

Some social media sites, such as Facebook, automatically wipe the data from the image for the privacy of users. However, many forums and photo-upload sites, such as Photobucket, do not clear the information.

Fortunately, outdoorsmen who want to share their pictures online can edit EXIF data to add copyright information, or remove location information, with the use of one of several free EXIF editor programs.

treegpsEXIF data can be beneficial in multiple ways for the serious or professional photographer, said National Geographic photographer Ken Geiger.

“It has more benefits than drawbacks,” Geiger said. “Sometimes it’s for educational purposes. ‘Let’s look and see what settings he had his camera on for this shot.’”

Most people have no reason to worry about the data, Geiger said.

“EXIF data is part of pretty much every photo file,” he said. “If you ran around checking everyone’s shoe size, everyone is going to have one, but who cares?”

To turn location information off on an iPhone, follow these steps:

Settings>Location Services>Camera. Slide the button to OFF.

To turn location information off on a Blackberry, follow these steps:

Camera>Hit menu button>Options>Set “Geotagging” option to “Disabled.”

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