Modern smartphones (and many digital cameras) embed GPS coordinates in each photo they take. Yes, those photos you’re taking have location data embedded in them—at least by default. You may want to hide this information when sharing sensitive photos online.
Find the GPS Coordinates
GPS coordinates are stored as “metadata” embedded in the photo files themselves. All you have to do is view the file’s properties and look for it. It’s a bit like the potentially incriminating information that can be stored along with Microsoft Office documents or PDF files.
In Windows, all you have to do is right-click a picture file, select “Properties,” and then click the “Details” tab in the properties window. Look for the Latitude and Longitude coordinates under GPS.
In macOS, right-click the image file (or Control+click it), and select “Get Info.” You’ll see the Latitude and Longitude coordinates under the “More Info” section.
Sure, you may be able to see this information with an “EXIF viewer” application, but most operating systems have this feature built in.
GPS coordinates are not embedded in every single photo. The person who took the photo may have disabled this feature on their phone or manually removed the EXIF details afterwards. Many image-sharing services online—but not all of them—automatically strip the geolocation details for privacy reasons. If you don’t see these details, the’ve been stripped from (or never included in) the image file.
Match the Coordinates to a Location on a Map
These are standard GPS coordinates, so you just need to match them to a location on a map to find where the photo was actually taken. Many mapping services offer this feature—you can plug the coordinates straight into Google Maps, for example. Google offers instructions for properly formatting the coordinates for Google Maps.
Bear in mind that this is just metadata and could be faked, but it’s pretty rare that someone would bother to fake metadata instead of stripping it entirely. It’s also possible for the GPS location to be off a bit. A phone or digital camera may just have been using its last known location if it couldn’t get an up-to-date GPS signal while taking the photo.
How to Stop Embedding GPS Coordinates in Your Photos
If you want to disable adding GPS data entirely, you can go into your phone’s Camera app and disable the location setting. You can also remove the embedded EXIF data before sharing potentially sensitive photos. Tools are built directly into Windows, Mac OS X, and other operating systems for this—just follow our guide for more details.
On an iPhone, head to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera, and then select “Never” for the “Allow Location Access” option. The Camera app won’t have access to your location and won’t be able to embed it in photos.
On Android, this process varies from phone to phone. Different manufacturers include their own custom Camera apps, and even the Android 4.4 Camera app works differently than in Android 5.0. Dig around your camera app’s quick settings toggles or settings screen and look for an option that disables this feature—or just perform a quick web search to find out how to disable it on your phone and its camera app.
Bear in mind, though, that GPS coordinates can be really useful, too. For example, with a service like Google Photos, Yahoo! Flickr, or Apple iCloud Photo Library, you can organize your photos and view them according to where they were taken, making it really easy to browse photos taken on a particular vacation or at a favorite landmark. You can always strip out the location information on your own if you want to share a photo—that’s why so many services automatically remove the geolocation details when you share the photo with someone else.
The EXIF metadata stored along with photos also includes some other details. For example, you can see exactly which model of camera (or smartphone) the person used to take the photo. You can also examine exposure settings and other details. Most of these details aren’t considered anywhere near as sensitive as GPS location details—although professional photographers may want to keep their tricks and settings secret.