These days, whenever you take a photo, whether it is with a cell phone camera, or any kind of digital camera for that matter, the photo stores personal information about you and your photo which gets embedded right into the RAW and/or JPG file itself. This data is known as Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data or also referred to by some as International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) data.
It stores things like GPS coordinates telling people where you were when you took the photo (that is if you took the photo with a cell phone camera or a camera that has built in wifi), what kind of camera equipment you used, what all your camera settings were, and etc. It even stores the serial number of your camera so that a photo could be traced back to the camera equipment you own. In some cases this information can be very useful when you want to look back at a photo and know certain things about the image you shot like time of day, date, etc. But sometimes you may not want to share all this info with the world, especially when posting your images on public web sites or sending your pictures around on the internet. Some web sites like Facebook will strip the data out of the file for you automatically when you upload a photo, which is nice, but on most other sites like Flickr it doesn’t remove any of the data from your pictures.
Recently, Google has also dropped hints about their possible use of EXIF data as weighting for their search engine rankings. And in light of all the recent discoveries about governments eavesdropping on citizens around the world, it only seems reasonable to assume that they may also collect such information from photos posted on the internet as a matter of policy. It is therefore a good idea to remove EXIF data from photos before you post them on the internet if you want to maintain any level of privacy.
So how do you know if for example the GPS location is being saved in your pictures?
You can easily look inside your image files to see what’s written in the EXIF data. On Windows based PCs you can right click on any image file to view its “Properties”. Under the “Details” tab you will see all the camera data, including a section on GPS data. On Macs, launch the Preview program to open up your image. Select “Tools,” then “Show Inspector” and from there click on “GPS” to see if there is any GPS data there for your photo. On Macs you can also go to the “Finder”, “Get Info”, and then expand the “More Info” section to read EXIF data.
If you are using Photoshop it is also very easy to see all your EXIF data in neatly packed detail if you go to the “File” menu and then click on “File Info”. This will bring up a dialogue box with an assortment of tabs containing various different bits of EXIF information for your photo.
Screen Shot From Photoshop
The good news is there are simple ways to get rid of this data without degrading, damaging or modifying anything else within your image files except for the removal of all that unwanted personal data. I found there are a number of programs available for both PC and Mac (many of them free), which will remove all or most of the EXIF data from a whole batch of photos in just seconds with only one click of the mouse.
If you are on a Windows based operating system then the best free program I found is called FileMind QuickFix. This program is great because after experimenting with many different programs I found that this one doesn’t modify the resolution that some of the other EXIF removal programs do. Plus it removes all of the EXIF data without missing any of it.
Easy EXIF Delete for Windows is good too, but it fails to remove lens info and the camera’s serial number which is a key piece of info that should be deleted. Exif Eraser, also for Windows, is good in that it also removes all EXIF info completely like FileMind QuickFix does, but it seems to modify the file resolution down to 72PPI on 300PPI files, which is not good at all.
If you are on Mac there are a couple of options too, but I haven’t tested them personally. There is iPhoto EXIF Cleaner and also IMT EXIF Remover for Mac.
These EXIF data removal programs are very useful too if you want to post some of your photos on photo sharing sites like Flickr, pBase, etc and you don’t want viewers to know things like what camera body and lens you shot with, what your focal length was, shutter speed, aperture setting, etc.
In a world where it is fast becoming a place where everything you do these days makes a digital footprint of some sort, it is nice when you discover ways to restore some of the autonomy and privacy we used to take for granted before the age of digital data mining. In the future, internet giants and governments may use this information from your photos to record when and where you have gone, amongst other things. Sad but true. So at least there are ways like this to restore some of your privacy again.
Very helpful article, Marc. Thank you. I am not very keen on being observed, if that is what is happening to us nowadays. Michael