Your cat betrays you! (and what that has to do with meta data)

In the age of the Internet, everyone should understand who the real rulers of our world are. It is not an elected president, a secret underground government or a crazy despot of an emerging nuclear power. They are much more inconspicuous beings. Beings who have mastered this world since the time of the Egyptians, who move majestically and quietly on velvet paws. Correct. They are cats. The Internet is full of pictures of them. And anyone who is fortunate to be the subject of one of these animals has already published a picture of the same on a social network. According to unconfirmed estimates, there are even more cat pictures on the Internet than stars in the sky. But what if that’s just the problem?

What if exactly these cute pictures of your cat reveal sensitive data to the whole world? Like, say, your exact place of residence! Without being aware of that. Without you doing anything wrong. The website “I know where your cat lives” (https://iknowwhereyourcatlives.com/) proves just that! This page analyzes cat images from social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and reads the so-called “meta data”. A lot of information about the photo can be found in these meta data.

Meta Data – The Problem

Data such as time of day, aperture, exposure time, focal length and ISO value. Granted, nothing to worry about, because they only allow conclusions about the camera used. Unfortunately that is only a small part. Because there are also data such as: name of the photographer and geo-information. These are the exact latitude and longitude at which the picture was taken. If you upload a picture into a social network, this information, which is invisible to the photographer, is transmitted as well.

You would think that this is not the biggest problem with cat pictures. However, the site acts rather as a kind of “proof of concept” in order to make people understand the underlying issue on the basis of a relatively common topic. Because thinking further, there are some scenarios that might give you a queasy feeling.

Scenario 1

You regularly post photos from your kitchen, couch or balcony, including meta data. In other words, anyone who has access to these images can easily find out exactly where you and the pictured items are located. Then one day you go on vacation and post pictures of the beach.
This means you probably won’t be at home for any length of time. People interested in the items in your home, e.g. your TV, MacBook, or game console, just need to enter the data from your previous pictures into Google Maps and thus can find out your exact address and help themselves to your belongings.

Scenario 2

Is there anything you are you even more proud of as your cat? Most certainly your children. And that’s why many parents post these photos publicly in social networks. Of these, the exact location is now publicly known through the meta data. This alone should be sufficient to clarify why meta information can be a real problem.

Meta-Data – The Solution

As a user of a VPN, we probably do not have to tell you that you ought to be careful with information shared on the Internet. Because you never know who’s lurking and what the information you provide is used for. Removing meta information is relatively easy on Windows computers:

  • Right-click on the picture
  • Select properties
  • Select the tab “Details”
  • At the bottom, click “Remove personal information”

Done.
In a future blog entry, we’ll give you more information including ways to remove the meta data for smartphones.
So stay tuned!

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