Computer and online security has been a topic for the news lately. This was because of a mistake made in software that was being used to try to keep your password from being seen by criminal hackers was making it visible to those criminals. In the wake of the news, the Doug Davis of the Numismatic Crime Information Center sent out a message to his list of contacts that had one central message for every dealer and collector:
Shooting simple photos from your smart phone or personal camera can lead criminals right to your location… with pinpoint accuracy using GPS satellites.
You might have heard the term “metadata” in the news in the context of its collection by the National Security Agency. For those who do not know what metadata is, think of it as a description of the data. Think about an exhibit in a museum. The exhibit contains several artifacts arranged in a certain way to try to tell a story. But the story is incomplete because a little more information is needed to put it into context. But the information cannot be shown as an artifact in the exhibit, so the person setting up the exhibit adds a description added to the exhibit to make it more understandable. That description would be the metadata to the exhibit.Embedded within the pictures you take with your digital camera is a description of the picture that is not visual on the picture. Within this description is the type of camera you are using, the shutter speed, and other exposure information. One of the descriptive items that your camera can record is where the picture was taken. This is called geotagging or geocoding.
Modern cameras, cameras built into smartphones, and even some memory cards that can be inserted into older cameras can determine where you are located and record that in the metadata in the picture you take. And contrary to what you have read, new technologies do not have to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) to figure out where you are located. There are services that use WiFi to record your position. It is called WiFi Positioning System (WPS). Basically, WPS determines where it is located and communicates that to WiFi connected services so that it could be used to determine your location.
I know geotagging can be a lot of fun. A few years ago when my wife and I drove from Portland, Maine to Canada, I had taken pictures of the scenery along the way hoping to find a moose. After all, how can you go through the woods of Maine without seeing a moose?! When I loaded the pictures on my Mac in iPhoto, it was fun to see the plot of where the pictures were taken on the built-in map. I was able to follow the road into Canada just based on the geocodes.
What I did not do is post those pictures while on the road. Aside from the lack of cellular connectivity, posting those pictures would advertise to evil doers that I was not home and too far away to do anything.
If you take geocoded pictures of your coins and post them online, whether it you are posting them to a social media site or a discussion forum, you are advertising where the coin is located. This might not be a problem if you collection consists of what dealers would call ordinary or common coins. But if that 1937-D Buffalo nickel has only three legs, that geocoded picture announces that you have at least one high value coin that someone might want to acquire through less than legal means.
The problem is that I love to see pictures of interesting coins. This is one of the reasons I love Pinterest. Aside from sharing my own picture, Pinterest allows me to pin coin images from around the Internet to create virtual scrapbooks. Do you have an interesting coin? I want to see it. Different types of tokens and medals are excellent artwork.
However, when you take the pictures of your prized collection, make sure you turn off geotagging!
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to do it on every camera because the process is different. To help, I found the following two articles that provides an overview of how to turn off geotagging on the common smartphones:
- “How to Disable Geotagging on Your iPhone, Android Phone or Blackberry”
- “How to disable a smart phone’s geotagging feature”
For other cameras, you need to find the manual that came in the box to figure out how to do this.
In the meantime, stay safe online and let’s see those beautiful coins!