OSINT game: It's never just your location your photos are giving away

And cloning tools can only take you so far!

Is 2020 terrifying enough for you? Oh, it is? Well, I need to scare you some more. I promise I will do it in a CONSTRUCTIVE way.

Here’s the thing. I like to explain to people just how much information their social media is giving away. This is why I recently posted the following picture on Twitter and asked my followers what they noticed about it:

The most obvious element was the background, of course, as it was quickly pointed out:

It is very easy to use a simple cloning tool or an eraser tool on a phone app (no need to fire up Photoshop) to create a poor attempt at abstract art out of the background, then create a bokeh effect that’s normally meant to make your photos more alluring as to conceal your location.

Of course, you can simply blur a background, but cloning can really make the process more fun (and even more safe) — because it can result in people making all sorts of wild guesses about where you are located.

All of this can be helpful if you’re into showing off a new denim jacket but don’t feel like giving away where you’re standing. Subtler changes to photos work better, though — at least from an aesthetic point of view. And it’s my opinion that aesthetics and personal security (or PERSEC, as important people like to say) are often at odds with each other. In fact, I would like to write more specifically about that in the future, which is why you should keep reading my newsletter (as if you need another reason, right?).

Just like when it comes to risking danger to take that perfect selfie, we can use a good photo without worrying about its potential implications. My goal here is NOT to make you think that there’s a pervert outside, standing behind a tree, having already geolocated your house (goddammit, pervert) — my goal here is to make sure you know what kind of choices you’re making.

Which brings me to my next point; look at how people were able to figure out the exact provenance of my backpack and draw conclusions from it:

What year did I buy that backpack? That’s right, 2017. What can be inferred from that? Any number of things. It all depends on what kind of information one is looking for. The mask indeed is crucial in chronolocating me at least approximately — this shot is definitely not from the Before Times.

If you follow Carlos Gonzales on Twitter (and if you don’t, you really should), you can find out a lot more about how a random object in a photo can help solve a crime.

With this newsletter, what I am showing you is that these techniques are out there, and they’re not always going to be used for crime-fighting. Some could be used against you for any random reason.

Over the course of my career, I have had stalkers dig into my personal life. Some of them are state actors. Some of them are bored, ugly people. Either way, this has made me more aware of the kind of information I put out — even if I’m doing something as silly as publishing a photo of a group of “breeding” Copenhagens. Once you’ve had your life scrutinized in bizarre ways, you become more proactive and more aware of how your images may be interpreted or misinterpreted.

My goal is to eventually have someone correctly identify a piece of clothing that I am wearing. Dresses with distinct patterns are one such area of personal fascination for me, because I love fashion, and I am excited about fashion analysis.

In conclusion, I would like to once again point out that a single image does not exist in a vacuum. The value of images is in how they can be used to prove or disprove a pattern or line of inquiry. Images of particular objects can be used to discover your shopping habits, to give one obvious example — all people have to do is look for a particular pattern. A stray shopping bag can give more clues than you anticipated.

Feeling paranoid yet? Don’t. Paranoia makes us exhausted, and exhaustion is not how you make it through 2020, or beyond (but please, let’s just all make it through 2020 for now — one foot in front of the other). Instead, please know that you are empowered to reveal or conceal information at will. The world is a howling vortex of chaos, but you still get to have agency as you spin around in it. If it helps — you’re not alone.

Please share this newsletter with anyone who might benefit, and don’t forget to subscribe! A paid subscription frees me up to bring you more important information about your personal security (and makes me less paranoid about the future too, ahaha).