Feel Like You’re Hacking, Step 4: Digging for metadata

Now that we saved that photo on our hard drive in Step Three, let’s see what we can find out about it. We’re going to look at its metadata, which is sort of like peering under the hood of the file itself.

In photo files, metadata often includes the camera’s settings when the picture was taken. This is called EXIF data. There are quite a few programs and tools that can show you EXIF data, like:

But to keep it simple for now, let’s just use a website called Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer. Click the “Choose File” button and upload the wedding cake photo. Or you can input the URL – but remember, it has to be pasted from the window with the .jpg, not the original webpage. We learn a few things about this photo:


  1. It’s a jpeg file, with a size of 333 × 500 pixels
  2. It has a 
    resolution of 72 pixels/inch
  3. It uses the RGB color profile

But this isn’t super helpful to us, because EXIF data is meant for photographers. Let’s download another photo and look at that one. This is a personal photo, so its metadata might not be as protected as the professional one. It turns out, Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer gives us a LOT more information:

  1. It was taken with an Apple iPhone 4
  2. The photographer didn’t use flash
  3. She took it at 8:25:52PM on October 12, 2011

And (drum roll, please): the coordinates of where the photo was taken. Jeffrey’s viewer even plots it on a map.

GPS Latitude Ref	North
GPS Latitude	38.622667 degrees
GPS Longitude Ref	West
GPS Longitude	90.192667 degrees
GPS Time Stamp	02:42:39
GPS Img Direction Ref	True North
GPS Img Direction	262.8493976
GPS Date Stamp	2011:10:12
2 years, 4 months, 14 days, 19 hours, 41 minutes, 21 seconds ago

Are you feeling freaked out right now?

Everyone knows, to some extent, that we put more information about ourselves out there on the web than we realize. This photo is a really good example of that. We know the person who took this picture was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis at 8:30pm GMT on October 12, 2011. She probably didn’t realize that when she uploaded the snapshot from her phone.

There are a few ways to avoid this. Often, editing a photo or even just uploading it will strip a lot of metadata from the file. That happens to tons – if not most – photos on the web, so this tactic works better with raw files, like those straight from a camera or hard drive.

One surefire way to scrub your metadata is to take a screenshot of the photo right on your computer. EXIF data of the screenshot will remain – like the date you took it, the device you used, etc. – but there will be no metadata from the photo you’re screencapturing. Josh Duberman suggested these other options for stopping EXIF data before it latches on to your photo files.

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Let’s look at other tools to dig up personal information in STEP FIVE.

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