That "random" picture that will get you tracked
Watch out for reflections in sunglasses. Buildings are recognizable. An obvious location will betray a not-so-obvious one!
Over the course of the last week, I tweeted a couple of seemingly “random” pictures in order to demonstrate how easy it is to figure out your location, even if you’ve taken some care to crop out any identifying features/used an angle that doesn’t make it obvious where you are.
‘Tis the season, so the first one featured a pumpkin:
A lot of people who are new to geolocation would take a look at this photo and say, “Wow, it’s probably very hard/almost impossible to figure out your exact location.” Ahaha. Ahahahahahaha.
It was a lazy Sunday, so I was precisely geolocated a few hours later (most people want to relax during the weekend instead of stalking me for the sake of promoting online safety — I can’t blame them!):
Here is that beautiful church that Steve pinpointed as my location on Google Maps:
Again, if you’re new to this, you’re going, “No way, Natalia, what the hell?” If you’re not, you’re laughing to yourself.
There are many *forensic* ways to analyze the photo, but let’s learn to Think Like A Creep™️ here. The big clue is the pumpkin, as Ken Campbell noted:
If you look at my other social media feeds (which creeps ALWAYS do), you can find an open air market from that day, as also noted by Ken:
My Twitter says I live in Washington D.C. Combine the open air market scene with a specific-looking building AND fence, and voila! You can find me as easily as a pumpkin during blessed Halloween season.
Here’s another “random” photo that’s not random at all:
Wow, there’s, like, nothing there! Just a tree that appears to be having a hard time staying upright and some water, right?
Lol, less than 10 minutes after I posted this picture, David knew exactly where I was, albeit he initially misstated that it was Lincoln (I believe he meant Jefferson):
He followed that up with the precise location:
Here’s another precise geolocation, clocking in at 20 minutes or so:
Whatever route you took to figure out my exact spot, as Jonny noted, one look at my social media from the previous day would give you enough clues to narrow down your search, even if you don’t pay attention to the finer points of digital forensics:
Well, would you look at that!
This was a joke tweet (and a “please admire this stylish woman” tweet) — my friend is obviously standing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial — but I was also modeling the kind of social media behavior that can help a potential stalker (or a creepy foreign intel person, if you have a sensitive job) to track you down later.
Simply put, your obvious locations give away your not-so-obvious locations. Stalkers (and spies) cross-reference your data. It’s as simple to do as to take a long walk in our nation’s capital wearing trainers and, if you’re like me, a pair of leopard print loafers (what’s a geolocation challenge without good shoes?).
But wait, it gets better. Let’s zoom in on my sunglasses in the photo by the tree:
Yup, that’s the reflection of the Tidal Basin. Nobody said anything about it publicly, but two people DM’d me about it. Talking about zooming in on photos in public made them feel creepy and uncomfortable. And that’s good! That’s a fairly normal reaction! Except — stalkers love being creepy, that’s the whole definition of a stalker. This is the stuff they zoom in on. This is what you should keep in mind if you have privacy concerns online.
Thinking about the potential implications of your digital footprint is not pleasant — not in the beginning. When you know what you are doing and know how your information can be used, you end up having less surprises in life. And I don’t know about you, but I am done with surprises at the moment.
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