FBI Portland
Portland Media Office
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November 17, 2020

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Dangers of EXIF Data

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against the dangers of EXIF data.

What is EXIF data? EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format. It is basically the metadata attached to every digital photo you take. It will include information such as the camera model and settings you used, the date and time you took the picture, and even details about exactly where you took the picture. Photographers can use this data to help organize their photos, perform searches, or re-create the exact manner in which a picture was taken.

If you care about your privacy, though, EXIF data can be a problem. Imagine sending a photo to someone you just met online or to someone who is trying to buy something from you through an online marketplace. Beyond that, some social networks and photo-sharing sites have features that share EXIF data alongside images. Others, including Facebook, do not share EXIF data but may utilize the information internally.

Do you really want to post or share a photo that a bad actor can use to target exactly where you live or work? Where your kids go to school? Generally, no.

Here are some simple rules to follow regarding EXIF data and your photos:

  • Turn off your phone or camera’s geo-location feature before ever taking the picture. Note: devices in airplane mode can still capture geo-location information.
  • Remove EXIF data before sharing images with people or posting them online, especially when images are captured in private homes or businesses. There are free apps that you can use to do this.
  • Use an EXIF viewer to verify that you were successful in stripping the personal data from the photos before sharing.
  • Before uploading images, use available privacy settings to limit the audience to only your close friends and family.
  • Minimize the use of apps that automatically upload and share captured images.
  • Even without EXIF data, the image may contain identifying information, such as associated persons or location histories. Screen content with the assumption that anyone can see, copy, or forward photos that you post online.

When uploading or sharing photos, remember that EXIF data and image quality have no correlation. Lower quality images still contain EXIF data.

If you have been victimized by a cyber fraud, be sure to file a report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.