When you take a photo with your smartphone (or a modern digital camera), it logs the photo’s GPS coordinates and embeds it in the image metadata, or EXIF. This is how your phone is able to show a map view of your photo library.
Now, you can of course turn geotagging off—here’s how to do it on iOS and Android—but does it really matter? There are plenty of scare articles out there saying that the world is going to find your children if you share photos of them on social media, but is their any merit to it? Let’s look at some of the most common methods of sharing photos and see.
Directly Sharing Photos Over Email, Text Messaging, or Other Means
If you directly share an image file with someone, you are also including the embedded metadata. This means if you email it to them, text it to them, or use a shared folder in a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, they will have the GPS coordinates where you took it.
This might sound scary, but let’s back things up. How many people do you send photos to that don’t already know where you live? The vast majority of the time, I’m sharing images with family and friends; I’m sure you are too.
Now, if you’re sending someone photos of a car or games console that they’re considering buying off you, things might be a little different. In that case, go right ahead and remove the metadata (here’s how to do it on iOS and on Android) before you send the photos.
Uploading Photos to Facebook
When someone says “social media”, they’re almost always talking about Facebook, and when it comes to Facebook, you are safe to upload photos with geotags. During the upload process, Facbook strips all the metadata—including the location—from the image, so no one will be able to get it from your Profile.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t make sure your Facebook account is as private as possible. It just means that sharing a photo isn’t going to tell everyone where you live.
Sharing Images on Instagram
Unsurprisingly, Instagram, seeing as it’s owned by Facebook, treats photos the same way. When you upload them, the EXIF data is all removed. You can choose to include the photo’s location on Instagram, but it’s not pulled from the geotag data. Instead, it uses your phones GPS to find where you are now and suggests nearby locations. (That’s why if you share a photo later, it’ll suggest your current location, not ones near where the photo was taken.)
Sharing Images on Twitter
Twitter, like Facebook and Instagram, strips all the EXIF data from the images you upload with your Tweets. No one will find your location from your photos there.
However, Twitter has a different problem: you can share your exact location along with a Tweet. The image you attach might not have your home’s GPS coordinates, but the Tweet certainly can. Like always though, there’s a way to turn that off.
Sharing Images on Reddit and Imgur
Whether you use Reddit’s own image upload feature or the popular third-party image host Imgur, the result is the same as with the other social networks: the EXIF data, including the geotags, is stripped out as you upload them. That’s not to say you won’t find images with EXIF data on Reddit; if someone posts a link to an image hosted by a service that does keep geotags or hosts their own images, it will be there, but it does mean you’re very unlikely to accidentally share a photo with EXIF data intact.
Sharing Images on Flickr and 500px
The only major social networks that don’t automatically strip location data when you upload images are those actually dedicated to photography, like Flickr and 500px. For these sites, displaying metadata like camera, lens, shutter speed, and aperture is an important part of the conversation around the images.
Now, you don’t have to share the geotag data; both sites give you the option to exclude it when you upload your photos. It’s just that it won’t get removed automatically.
Geotags really aren’t the scary thing that they’re sometimes portrayed as. It’s highly unlikely you’ll accidentally share your location just using a photo. It’s best not to post private information publicly on social media, but you can get away with sharing most photos totally safely. Sure, you can remove it before you post, if you want—after all, better safe than sorry—but most of the time, it probably won’t matter.
And if you want to make sure, you can always download some photos from a social network you’re worried about and check out the EXIF data. If there’s any geotags, you’ll see them.