The Best of the Tech Helpline: What You Post Online Could Put You at Risk

Stay safe when geotagging online


 March 08, 2018
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With the use of mobile technology growing at an alarming rate, your safety with regards to technology is a bigger concern than ever before. Say you’re hosting an open house, hiking at a Wisconsin state park or trying a new restaurant in town, and you post a photo or video online about one of these adventures. Innocent enough, right? While adding these posts online and in real-time can be convenient and fun, there is a dark side.

Geotagging

Geotagging is the practice of tagging your geographical location to something digital, such as a post, photo or video. Geotagging can happen in various scenarios.

Sometimes geotagging happens automatically, like when you take a picture with your smartphone. You don’t see it, but your location is automatically recorded in the metadata of the photo.

Other times, geotagging happens on social media since several networks have built-in geotagging. Do you check in or add your location to your social media post when you arrive at a restaurant? A concert? The airport? If so, you’ve geotagged your location.

Finally, we sometimes geotag ourselves on apps, such as when we share our run or a bike trail online.

Checking in or posting your location? Think twice

Depending on your online privacy settings as well as your friends’ privacy settings, your geographical information can be viewed by friends and relatives you trust, but it could also potentially be seen by strangers with criminal intentions.

Those with malicious intentions will exploit anything you give them. When you geotag yourself to a location, and you or your friends share your location with the public, criminals can learn your patterns. This process is known as ‚Äúcybercasing,‚ÄĚ similar to when burglars physically ‚Äúcase‚ÄĚ a house. Cybercasing refers to how criminals can use geotagged text, photos and videos for purposes of burglary, identity theft and cyberstalking.

Thieves want to know when you are out of the house and how long are you out of the house. If you check in at the same coffee shop or gym at the same time on specific days, a skilled cybercaser could discover your routine and use this to his or her advantage.

Proceed with caution with posting photos and videos

Even if you don’t share your location and only share a photo, criminals can find your location with the photo you shared.

Aside from any visible landmarks, criminals can extract the location information from a picture you post online. If you shared a photo you took inside your home, a criminal can take inventory of the valuables you own ‚ÄĒ for example, your diamond ring and expensive purse sitting on the table behind you. Additionally, a criminal can also pinpoint your location from the photo using the photo‚Äôs metadata.

This is relevant as well for photos and videos of the homes you list for sale. Does the video of the house on YouTube show any valuables inside? Did you list the address of the house as well? You could have just put your client at risk!

What you post may be innocent, but what criminals see is opportunity. For example, posting ‚ÄúI‚Äôm on vacation‚ÄĚ means ‚Äúno one is at the house‚ÄĚ for criminals. Posting ‚Äújust home alone enjoying a glass of wine‚ÄĚ means ‚ÄúI‚Äôm vulnerable‚ÄĚ to criminals, or posting photos of your home means ‚Äúlook at my valuables‚ÄĚ to criminals.

Protect your safety

Learn more about privacy settings of the apps you use: You will likely find privacy settings of all of your favorite apps, from Facebook to exercise programs to meme generators. See this list of a few of the most common apps and their privacy setting information:

Consider turning off location services on location-sharing apps: You can turn off these options on your apps you think might pose a safety risk. At the same time, you can keep these options on for apps in which such options are beneficial, such as Find My iPhone or Find Friends.

Don‚Äôt post your photos online, or if you do, remove geotags: In today‚Äôs world, simply not adding any photos online might be a daunting task! If and when you do post photos, be sure to remove the geotag. To remove geotags on iPhone, go to settings, then privacy, then location services. Next, locate the name of the app or the camera, and then change the switch from the ‚Äúon‚ÄĚ position to the ‚Äúoff‚ÄĚ position.

Continue to educate yourself in the area of REALTOR¬ģ safety. Call the WRA Tech Helpline to chat with a tech specialist about tech safety, or visit www.nar.realtor/safety for safety resources from the National Association of REALTORS¬ģ.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA, and is authored by Melissa Mazanec-Becker.

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