The massive increase in the use of mobile devices to access the internet has led to a massive increase in personal information being uploaded to the internet in the form of metadata says Security Research Institute Director, Professor Craig Valli.
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 at the pub or movies 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 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. It collected Facebook users’ holiday entries and indicates whether an individual is at home or not.
Metadata can also enable employers to check on their employees without their knowledge.
For instance, an employee on sick leave who heads out to lunch with a friend might ‘check in’ via Foursquare or is tagged in a photo at the café.
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 with 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?
Professor Craig Valli is Director of the Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University. Source: Edith Cowan University