Tuesday, 22 November 2011

What your camera knows about you

Big Brother is in your camera
I've recently written a little about how cameras store information inside image files, and how this can be potentially dangerous (and also fodder for inaccurate scare-stories).

While researching this subject, largely by glancing through other people's photos on photo-sharing site Flickr, I found that the amount of metadata stored by some modern cameras is quite mind-boggling.

Take, for example, your baby's age.

You read that right. Some cameras will track the age of your child and embed this information into photos. This is handy, of course, but did you know that this data was there? Or that your camera's serial number may also be embedded in images?

The serial number issue is what worries me most, when considering the actions of over-acting law enforcement versus legitimate protesters. The same applies to an even greater degree when one considers the risk this poses to the personal security of camera-armed observers documenting activities against what they consider to be a repressive regime.

In a previous article I imagined that it would not take much work for an investigator to figure out which suspect's camera had taken offending images. It will take even less work if the whole or near-whole serial number is embedded in the images. Add some GPS coordinates and your alibi is going to have to be pretty strong.

Let's say you use a Panasonic Lumix camera (DMC range). You can expect your images to contain a long list of metadata including:

  • Firmware Version 0.1.0.0
  • Internal Serial Number cbbbbaaaawzzzzyyyyxxxx==
  • Baby Age :02:22 00:00:00
You can find real examples very easily by performing a Google search for:
Internal Serial Number site:flickr.com
You don't have to be opposed to the authorities to find this troubling. Run that search (above) on Google and include Baby Name. If you regularly upload images to sites like this be aware that you're putting a lot of personal information out there. It's your choice, but at least make that choice rather than leak the data unwittingly.