What is Metadata – Can Hidden Information in Photos and Other Files Risk Your Privacy

A lot of people are unwittingly publishing information about themselves online when they share photos and videos online. This information is revealed in something called “metadata” which you can think about as “data about the data”, or info about the information (data) in the file.

This information about the file can be something as simple and visible as the file name, but the information most people are talking about when they mention metadata tends to be more “hidden” inside the file.

One example is “ID3 tags” in MP3 files which hold the musician’s name and other information, another example is the data in a photo which can reveal mundane information such as the camera settings when taking the photo and the date, but also GPS location information revealing exactly where the photo was taken.

This information is visible in typical photo viewing and editing programs such as Picasa for Windows or iPhoto for Mac OS X. It also often is revealed automatically on photo sharing websites.

A file name could be thought of as the simplest example of metadata since it can be used to describe the contents. However, many types of files contain more information stored inside a special part of the file.

Common examples of files with metadata include music, photos, & video files. In photographs and videos the camera or smartphone typically records GPS information about your location and this can end up visible to the world when you share those files online.

This may not be a problem with all photos or videos, depending on where you shoot them, but ones taken of your home reveal where you live and what kinds of things you own.

In effect, you’re casing your own home for potential burglars.

Most cameras and phones that can record this information will have a setting to prevent saving location information to the image. Consider sharing your photos privately with family and friends instead of in public galleries.

When uploading to any site, look around (under privacy on the settings screen for example) for a setting that lets you turn off displaying GPS location data.

I show you how to disable location services in one of the video lessons in my How to Use the iPhone App.

Listen to the audio above for the full Plain English explanation and understanding of metadata and how it can affect your privacy.

You can also take a look at my easy online computer training courses for more in-depth and step-by-step computer help.