Protect your privacy when uploading photos

You probably know that you can find the date and time taken, date modified, and exposure information in your photo's metadata.

Your digital photo files hold all sorts of interesting information. You probably know that you can find the date and time taken, date modified, and exposure information in your photo's metadata. You might also know that your photo can tell you what make and model camera you used, and details about the lens and flash. But you might also be storing your name, your home address, and other private or potentially embarrassing information in those files as well, all of which can be seen if you post our photos online. This week, let's make sure you know how to protect that personal data.

Inside Your Photo's Metadata

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There's a lot of information lurking around inside your photos--more than you might know. You can spy on all this information in Windows or using a photo organizer. If you have Windows Vista, for example, right-click a photo and choose Properties. Then click the Details tab, and you should see much of the metadata packed into your photo.

Photo organizers often arrange the same information in a more attractive way. Click the image to the left for a view of metadata in Windows Live Photo Gallery.

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Most of that information is pretty innocuous. The shutter speed and aperture setting of your camera? No big deal. But what if you use a GPS device to geo-locate your photos? That can be handy, but you might not want to upload the GPS location of your own backyard to the Web.

And then there are keywords and tags. I've been recommending that you tag your photos instead of organizing them by folder for years now. And that's fine, unless you happen to use embarrassing keywords. If you tagged photos of a friend, relative, or coworker with a snarky nickname, for example, don't forget that if you upload the photo to a photo sharing Web site, the tag usually goes with it. Anyone who looks at your photo of your boss will be able to see that you tagged him as "clumsy." Oops.

Protecting Your Privacy

Concerned? If you have metadata you might not want to share with the world, fear not. It's easy to strip personal information out of your image files before you upload them to the Internet.

You can remove all of a photo's metadata using nothing more than Windows itself, if you have Vista. Just go back to the Details tab of the Properties dialog we discussed earlier. At the bottom of the window, you should see a link that says Remove Properties and Personal Information. Click it and all the metadata will be stripped away from the photo. You can even select several images and do this to all of them at the same time.

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If you don't have Vista, or you're looking for an even easier metadata removal method, try a program like JPEG & PNG Stripper. This free utility does exactly what it promises: To use it, just drag your photo files to the Stripper window, and the metadata is instantly erased.

You'll probably want to remove the metadata only from the copy of the photo you plan to upload or share. If you use either of these methods to erase metadata, it's gone forever. Don't do it to the copy you're keeping on your computer unless you are sure you'll never want to search for it by its tags or look up the exposure information ever again.

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Dave Johnson

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