THE massive increase in the use of mobile devices to access the internet has led to a huge increase in personal information being uploaded to the internet in the form of metadata.
Metadata is information embedded in photos, videos and files which includes camera settings, personal information and, critically, the exact location of the user when a photo or file is created or uploaded.
This information is increasingly shared on social media; we’ve all seen a status update or tweet by a friend announcing their great night out, along with a list of everyone who’s with them.
It can seem like harmless fun to let friends know when we’re out on the town, but as with anything which goes online, it has the potential to be seen by anyone.
That information can be the online equivalent of walking outside and posting a ‘No-one’s home’ sign on the front lawn.
The website ‘Please Rob Me’ was a perfect example of how this information can be used.
Metadata can also enable employers to check on employees.
For instance, an employee on sick leave who heads out to lunch with a friend might ‘check in’ via Foursquare or be tagged in a photo at the caf�.
Does the employer have a right to track an employee’s location and then potentially dock their pay?
Given that some phones and services are now bundled as part of the employment package, where does the work tracking end and start?
The digital trail left by metadata also has important consequences for law enforcement agencies in terms of restraining orders and witness protection programs.
My advice would be to switch off geotagging or location data in your mobile device of choice if you aren’t comfortable sharing your movements with the world.
However, given the way we use social media to keep in touch with friends, this isn’t always possible. Therefore, we should ask ourselves before posting: who can see this and what can they do with this information?