Meredith Anderson">

Special Assignment: Smartphones Too Smart?

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The website I Can Stalk U seeks to raise awareness of what it calls "inadvertent information sharing" by "stalking" smartphone users who post location information.

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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, April 28, 2011

AUGUSTA---Your smartphone might be a little too smart. It can record information you might not want it to record, and that information could end up in the wrong hands. The good news? It's a simple fix. It takes less than a minute to make some simple changes to protect your privacy. The bad news? You could have already put your family at risk.

Vivian Terry is only four years old, but she's already a train expert. She knows the toy track she builds will lead her train where she wants it to go, just like her dad knows information and pictures on social networking sites could lead criminals to her. "I hate to put it like this," says Landon, "but every pervert in the world can look at them." That's why all of Landon's Facebook settings are set to private. "I get a lot of comments on them, and I comment on a lot of my friends' children who post pictures."

Simply setting your profile to private, however, isn't enough. You also have to do something to your phone. When you take a picture, your phone stores a lot of information about that picture, like the time it was taken or where it was taken. That information is hidden, but it's easy to find. I found a free program that can give it to you in seconds. It can tell you the exact location of any photo, and if I can find it, so can a criminal. Geo-tagging, as it's called, can turn pictures into a map.

We wanted to show Landon, and you, just how smart a smartphone can be and how dangerous that can be. We gave one to Landon and spent the day with him and Vivian at home and at her favorite park. "It concerns me with whoever she talks to and whoever walks up to her on the street and wants to talk to her." Landon can watch that, but he can't watch who could be decoding his posted pictures of his little girl, learning where she lives and where she plays.

That's information he wants to protect as a father and a law enforcement officer. "I didn't realize there was as big a threat as there was."

Landon is an officer with North Augusta Public Safety, so he knows what can happen if the wrong people get your information. "This is serious business. Your kid's safety could be at risk. These predators can find where you are, and there's always the potential of kidnapping or injuring a child."

Plus, you never know who's looking. Some jails even allow inmates to surf the web. "Prisoners have access to computers. They can do it right there in jail and find out a lot of information about you and your family and might keep it for reference for when they get out."

After learning about all the information pictures can store, you can bet Landon's made sure the geo-tagging option on his phone is now turned off. He doesn't want to put his daughter at risk, and as a police officer, he hopes you won't take chances with your family, either.

We didn't want to take any chances either, so Landon did not post the pictures we took, and we aren't showing you the map we made that gives the address of his house or the park.

Instead, I took a picture of Richard Rogers in the newsroom. The photo gave us the exact location using latitude and longitude. We plugged it into Google Maps, and this address popped up: 1301 Georgia Avenue. That is the street address of News 12. It also tells us the exact time the photo was taken. Again, this information took me seconds to find. It's almost too easy.

As easy as it is to find this information, it's even easier for you to prevent people from seeing it. All you have to do is disable the geo-tagging option on your camera on your smartphone. The setting is different for each phone, so we've posted video instructions on how to do it.

Once you've done this, don't forget about your old pictures. Pictures posted before you turned this feature off still contain the GPS location.


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