|There are some simple steps people can take to keep out computer hackers and snoops.|
Every day, millions of people post online pictures of their kids, vacations and family events. Most are unaware of the wealth of data that can easily be extracted. Digital photos contain an "EXIF" (Exchangeable Image File Format) data file that stores information about the image -- much of it fairly innocuous. A simple browser plug-in (or standard photo viewers) can tell what shutter speed and aperture was used, the date and time a photo was created and even if a flash was used. The danger comes from higher-end cameras and photos taken with cellphones and smartphones. These can add GPS information and geo-tagging that provides an exact longitude and latitude of where the picture was taken. A quick trip to Google ( GOOG) Maps can zero in on the exact address. In some cases -- although usually intentionally by professional photographers -- a full name and phone number can be embedded. All that information is a boon to potential stalkers and a quick way to ruin the anonymity of a blogger. Combined with personal information offered on such sites as Twitter, FourSquare and Gowalla, the use of EXIF data can be an invitation to burglars and other evidoers. National security can even be compromised, as is detailed in a report issued by the Pentagon that warned personnel against inadvertently revealing troop positions. There are two basic ways to protect yourself. One is to disable the geo-tagging feature in your smartphone, a task that can be as easy or complicated as your particular manufacturer makes it. (The website ICanStalkU.com offers guides for many popular brands.) You can also strip EXIF data from photos using Microsoft's ( MSFT) Picture Viewer in Windows (right-click to "properties," and click on "remove properties and personal information"). Apple's OS similarly enables the removal of data, as does the popular editing software, Adobe ( ADBE) Photoshop.