Sharing pics online may reveal private data

SAN ANTONIO – Do you love sharing photos with your family and friends online? It turns out you might be sharing a lot more personal information than you think.  

When you take a photo with a digital camera or a phone, details about things such as when, where and how the images were created are captured and stored automatically in a file in what's called Exif data or Exchangeable Image File Format. 

"That information travels with the photo wherever you send it. Whether you're posting it online or sharing it with a friend in a text," said Consumer Reports tech editor Thomas Germain.

Exif data can be very useful. When you store photos in Google Photos or iCloud Photos, Exif data is preserved so that you can search for the photos by date and location. Both services allow you to remove location data from individual photos.

If you share pictures using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or WhatsApp, the Exif data won't be available to the people who see them. 

Consumer Reports spoke with representatives from the popular social media companies and they all said that Exif data isn't used for advertising purposes. But some companies, such as Facebook and Twitter do say they use Exif data for analytics and other business purposes.

Remember that Exif data typically travels with photos you text or email, so keep that in mind when you're sharing.

There are ways to remove the Exif data altogether. The procedures depend on the device. One alternative is to take a screenshot of a photo and share that. Typically, the personal data does not travel with a screenshot, according to Consumer Reports.

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