• Michael Weeding

A photo speaks a thousand words, especially when it is posted on the Internet


The earliest example ever found of someone quoting “A picture speaks a thousand words” was Arthur Brisbane in March 1911, long before the Internet and long before Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. So Arthur never truly could have imagined the power just three words would have in making this saying even more powerful, those words are ‘Exchangeable Image File’ or EXIF and unlike Arthur you should know what it means.

EXIF data is the information that your camera stores with your image file when you take images in JPEG format (or TIFF). Almost all camera manufacturers support EXIF and whether you know it or not your camera is likely to be recording it with your image file.

With every photo you take with your Smartphone the camera records not only the date and time, but all the other camera settings used when taking the photo, this also includes your location data. So when you load this photo onto the Internet this data is available to anyone who wants to access it as you do not need to be a computer genius to extract the EXIF file, in most cases you just need to know how to right click a mouse.

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter promote the fact that they strip out the EXIF file before publishing, but not all of them do and Google Plus is one example of a site that retains the EXIF file in the photo they display. Note I am talking about published photos, I did not say that these sites strip out the EXIF file and throw it in the bin. They still have this data that you provided to them with the photo, it is just they are not sharing it with the world.

For photo enthusiasts the fact that the EXIF file is removed is a concern as they feel the metadata of a photo should be preserved and available for all to see so that the information on all the details of a great photo is retained. Although privacy pundits do not agree.

So if this is a concern for you it is best not to rely on sites like Facebook and Twitter to do all the hard work for you as what they do today may not be what they do tomorrow. So what can you do about it?

If you have an iPhone, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and select camera to off. For Android users the process is not as simple as it can vary for each device, so you will need to search how to disable this function through the settings on the device you use. Another alternative is to download one of the many Apps that will perform this function.

Time to update this common saying to “a photo is worth a thousand bits of metadata”.