Dear Parents Who Are Panicking About Secret Stalker-Friendly GPS Data Embedded In Every Photo Of Your Child: Stop it. Just stop it.

Dear Parents Who Are Panicking About Secret Stalker-Friendly GPS Data Embedded In Every Photo Of Your Child: Stop it. Just stop it.

UPDATED! See update below.

You’ve almost surely seen this, which has been making the rounds the last day or so everywhere parents gather. By which, of course, I mean on Facebook:

WARNING!!!! If you take photos with your cell phone

“Warning” If you, your kids or grand kids take pics from your phone—WATCH THIS!

This is truly alarming – please take the time to watch. At the end they’ll tell you how to set your phone so you don’t run this risk!

PLEASE PASS THIS INFO TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO TAKES PICTURES WITH THEIR CELL OR SMART PHONE AND POSTS THEM ONLINE.

I want everyone of you to watch this and then be sure to share with all your family and friends.

It’s REALLY important info, about what your posting things on your cell phones can do TO YOU!!!

Too much technology out there these days so beware………..

PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO WATCH THIS VIDEO, AND TAKE THE RECOMMENDED PRECAUTIONS.

If you have children or grandchildren you NEED to watch this. I had no idea this could happen from taking pictures on the blackberry or cell phone. It’s scary.

Are you scared yet?

Because if the above is to be believed, this threat to our children is “legitimately terrifying.”

This “menu of nearby children” is unknown even to Internet Crime Experts (!) … but apparently well known to local cannibals!

Well. Thank goodness that this video, posted by NBC Action News in Kansas City onto YouTube back in November 2010, is around to remind us how terrified to be… three years ago! If only we’d all seen it then, how many children could have been saved!?

Look, is the information in that video true, in general? That, if set to do so, your phone might be geo-tagging your photos with startling accuracy? Yes! It was true in 2010, and it’s also true today. Phones can do that. If you set them up to do it. Just like NBC Action News set the phone they gave their staffer for their little experiment to do it.

And yes, some people have their phones set that way and don’t know it. But you know what? I’ll bet dollars to donuts that unless you specifically changed the setting yourself, your phone is already secure from this terrifying threat to our nation’s children. Take a look, and leave a comment below letting me know.

I have no quibble with parents needing to be aware of these things, that they need to be careful about privacy, and understand the technology they are using. But the amount of fear that I am seeing coming from parents who are freaking out about this digital stranger danger is, frankly, absurd.

Here’s the fact you need to always keep in mind when these things come around: the chances of your child being abducted by a family member or someone close to the family is exponentially higher than the chances that some shadowy internet stalker somewhere is going to track down your child.

And if they did? If Shadowy Stalker did see a photo of my kid, and use his techno-powers to pull out the Exif data and determine my home address? How is that more of a threat than all the decades where one need only look in the phone book?

How about if he figured out where my son goes to preschool? Scary, huh? Well. Maybe. Except if I send my son to a preschool where they would pass him off to any adult showing up at the door asking for him, I have far bigger problems than ignorance about technology.

Ooh, ooh, but what about the park? The video said that this stuff is so precise that it even showed where in the park that little girl was playing! Uh-huh. And if Shadowy Stalker is somehow able to use his mad hacker skills to deduce that my son loves hanging out on the swings at our local park? Guess what? I am still right there with him.

Y’know… parenting!

The truth is, privacy is important. It’s vital to be aware of how to protect yours, and that of your children. But we don’t protect our kids’ privacy based on some fallacy that they are unwitting players in a great game of Hide-and-Seek, where this fictional boogey-person merely has to determine their location and then gets to take them away. We protect our kids by being with them, watching them, knowing who they are with, and talking to them about making good choices.

If your child is snatched from the playground under your nose, God forbid, it is far more likely to be because your phone has more of your attention than your child, rather than because your phone is sending creepy stalkers your child’s whereabouts.

If someone, anyone, can point out to me a kidnapping case (attempted or successful) where the person (child or adult) has been stalked via Exif data, I would love to see it. I’m genuinely curious if it has actually ever happened, other than in hypothetical scenarios.

Because if not, this is sort of like freaking out over the potential devastation of a Sharknado.

So please, let’s all take a deep breath, and remember our commitment to CTFD, shall we?

UPDATE: Need another reason not to worry about this so much? Thanks to a few well-informed readers, I have your back.

Good news! As it turns out, even if you haven’t turned off the settings that preclude your camera from including location coordinates in the photo file’s Exif metadata, the vast majority of places you might ever want to upload and display that photo publicly actually strip that data right out of the file.

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Even Flickr. All of them strip out data. You can see a comprehensive chart here.

Ironically, it’s my understanding that this stripping away of Exif metadata is actually greatly disliked by photographers, because included in the metadata are things like captions and copyright information. But for the purposes of protecting the children from potential stalkers? Exif data is a non-issue… with the possible exception of if you decide to leave location coordinates on, then randomly email your raw photos to people you don’t know.

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