Consumer Reports: Do your photos put your privacy at risk?

Love sharing photos with your family and friends online? Turns out you might be sharing a lot more personal information than you think. Consumer Reports reveals how the photos you post online may contain surprising hidden data that could put you or your family at risk.

In one photo, we see a boy sitting at a table playing with a bowl and a spoon. There's not much else you can tell by looking at it. But, if you download the file, you get much more information. The picture was taken using an iPhone5 at 4:08 p.m. on June 28, 2015 in Norwalk, Connecticut. In fact, we know the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.

So how did we learn all of this?

"So, when you take a photo with a digital camera or a phone, details about things like when, where, and how the images are created are captured and stored automatically in the file in what's called Exif data, which is short for Exchangeable Image File Format. And that information travels with the photo wherever you send it, whether you're posting it online or sharing it with a friend in a text," said Consumer Reports Tech Editor Thomas Germain.

Consumer Reports says that Exif data can be very useful. When you store photos in Google Photos or iCloud Photos, the Exif data is preserved so you can search for photos by date and location. Both services allow you to remove location data from individual photos.

If you share pictures using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or WhatsApp, the Exif data won't be available to the people who see them.

"We spoke to the popular social media companies and they all told us that exif data isn't used for advertising purposes," Germain said. "But some companies like Facebook and Twitter do say they use exif data for analytics and other business purposes."

Remember, the Exif data typically travel with photos you text or email, so keep that in mind when you're sharing.

Prefer to just remove the Exif Data from your photos all together? We've got Consumer Reports advice on how to do it-on Consumer Reports' website.

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