Schools around here do a lot of “internet safety” lessons. Warning students about the potential privacy dangers of posting personal information – stuff like full name, age, physical and email addresses – online. That instruction often extends to cautions about uploading pictures of themselves, especially doing those things that may offend college admissions officials or future employers.

However, often not part of that discussion is the vast amount of information that is often hiding in the background of many photographs. It’s called metadata1, recorded by the cameras in almost all modern smartphones and many “regular” ones, and many adults warning students don’t know about it either.

A recent edition of the Note to Self podcast offers some excellent examples of how that data can reveal far more than you might expect. The producers ask listeners to submit photos of themselves2 and they passed them on to the former chief scientist at Amazon to see what he could discover from just those files. He discovered a lot.

Take 21 minutes to listen. I don’t think the people at Note to Self are far off base when they note that this kind of data collection is “the future of commerce, marketing, policing, lending, and basically everything else”.

When you’re done, try Google’s Image Search (here’s how it works). The feature is rather scary in how well it can be used to locate information about you. Combine that with the GPS data, camera brand, maybe even your name, embedded in most images3 and it really doesn’t take a skilled detective to track you.

And one more Google piece related to this topic. Google recently updated their Maps app to allow you to track yourself. It’s called Your Timeline (under the hamburger menu) and you can share the information with others if you choose to. But even if you keep it private, remember that’s even more data you are providing to Google. Who, by this time, probably knows more about you than you do.