The Photos that Betray Us: GPS technology, mobile phones, & nonprofits

By next year, all mobile phones in North America will use GPS to capture locations.  Many already do. This information is extremely useful in the case of emergencies. It will help us to find missing persons and to respond to disaster victims.

There is a downside. A huge downside.

Mobile phones have cameras. Many newer phones automatically tag photos with your name, location, date, time, etc. This information helps the phone to organize your photos.  If those photos are shared online, the information stored in the photos is also shared.

This is called Geotagging. According to Socialbrite.org’s Social Media Glossary:

“Geotagging is the process of adding location-based metadata to media such as photos, video or online maps. Geotagging can help users find a wide variety of businesses and services based on location.”

Why might it be unwise to automatically share this information? If you takea photo at home and then post it online, a thief or predator can learn your address. If you take a photo at a domestic violence shelter, an abuser can use the address to find his/her former partner. This is true even of the photos we take of staff or facilities at domestic violence shelters.

I spoke recently with Deacon Johnson, creator of pixelguard, an application which allows users to decide what information is stored in their photos. He designed the app shortly after becoming a father. He realized the danger of social sharing and wanted to protect his child.

In talking with Deacon, I realized how important it is to be savvy about the information in our photos. By removing the data stored in photos, we are protecting clients, donors, and staff.

Nonprofits have been quick to adopt social media. In fact, more than 97% of nonprofits are using social media of some type. However, few have explicit social media policies. Even fewer are dealing directly with issues of privacy and security posed by social media.

This is definitely an issue nonprofits will want to look into. As a Nonprofit Nerd, I can think of many causes that should be thinking about these issues:

  • Domesticviolence safe houses
  • Organizations working with abused children
  • Health care organizations
  • After school programs
  • Drug and alcohol treatment centers
  • And many, many more.

By removing the information in our photos, we reduce the risks associated with publishing photos online. We don’t eliminate risks but they are reduced somewhat.

Consistent with Deacon’s mission to protect children, the pixelguard app is free for public schools.

This post is a part of our “Stay Tuned” blog series where I interview experts on a variety of topics. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, please add it in the comments below.

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