Tag! You're It! Are Geolocation Services Making A Cybercase Out Of You?

It happens innocently enough. You’re in the grocery store when you eye-ball a bag of "organic, humanely raised" pork rinds.

Unable to contain your glee at finding such a delightful manifestation of modern irony, you whip out your smartphone, snap a picture and "HootSuite" it to the world.

It’s only after you finish shopping and head out to the parking lot that you realize your mockery of fried pork products may have cost you a shred of privacy. There, standing next to your car, is your ex-squeeze—the one who used your CD collection as coasters before you had a chance to transfer them to your iPod.

You have just been geotagged! Your ex, who’s been keeping track of your tricks and tweets, right-clicked on your precious pork rind image and found out your exact location thanks to GPS grid coordinates supplied by your smartphone, which is making you feel pretty dumb right now. Luckily for you, at least in this case, the worst it will get is an awkward conversation about Lost as your acai-banana-rum ice cream slowly melts. But what about the next time?

So What?

Okay, so it turns out you’re single and might want to give your ex another chance. But what if someone else is lurking in the browser shadows? He or she could be waiting for the perfect moment to break and enter your humble fortress, knowing that you’re halfway across town for at least 30 minutes or more. Can you be certain there isn’t a cybercase file with your avatar on it, floating around in someone’s cloud drive?

You sure as heck don’t want to be featured on I Can Stalk U, which picks up where PleaseRobMe.com left off by sharing the potential havoc in broadcasting your whereabouts. I Can Stalk U purports to raise awareness about geotagging dangers by going to Twitter and stripping the geolocation data from uploaded images. That information is then listed on the I Can Stalk U web site in a stream of doom. Here’s how your pork rinds would have played out:

Twitter: @ForTheLoveOfDog Ha ha organic pork rinds. Wassup with that? Crazy!

I Can Stalk U: ICanStalkU was able to stalk @ForTheLoveOfDog at 123 Not As Smart as My Phone Street, USA

According to research commissioned by Webroot, 52% of 1,600 respondents tagged their whereabouts with online shutter bugging. Just a little less than half, 40%, were "aware or extremely concerned" about letting "potential burglars know when they are not at home." This raises the question: If we’re so concerned, then why do we stream our whereabouts in pretty pictures and videos for the entire world to see? Chalk it up to Wi-Fi hubris.

One thing’s for sure, the savvier technology gets in this age of mobile web 3.0, the savvier you need to be about security options. The writing is on the wall or, rather, the smartphone screen (which you’ll probably be able to project directly onto a wall or other flat surface sooner rather than later).

Although geotagging is largely a mobile fiesta, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay vigilant about Internet security. Location-based social media sites such as Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVGNR and Facebook all hinge on the concept of knowing and showing where you are to the world.

Remember—once photos are uploaded, they reside in a realm outside your front pocket. Even some digital cameras embed metadata into images, so be mindful of your personal photo albums and regularly scan and sweep your computer. It’s a great reminder to stay on top of all your online privacy needs, so visit Webroot’s Internet Security Center for a course of action.

Finally, while there are some instances where geotagging is cool and helpful, for example, when you want to remember location details of a honeymoon or find someone at Comic Con, those images should be locked and loaded in a secure manner. Following are some closing tips on how to be smarter than your smartphone and make your life’s journey a little less traceable.

  • Check your smartphone’s settings and change the geotagging capability.
  • Double check your privacy settings on all social media sites, including Flickr and Picasa.
  • Use geotag-specific Internet security software to help you manage your digital, multimedia life.
  • Inventory the photos you’ve already uploaded and take steps to de-tag them.
  • Prioritize these steps for children and teens.

And remember: pork rinds once had feelings too.

By Joy Keller

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