You Might Be Giving Up Your Location When You Share Photos on Your iPhone

turn off location services iphone 5.jpg
turn off location services iphone 5.jpg

Your iPhone keeps track of your location, but it’s usually for a good reason. Apps depend on accurate location tracking to function properly, like when you’re getting directions in Google Maps or using Find My to locate your lost phone. And if you didn’t know, that precise location feature extends to the photos and videos you take on your iPhone.

Any time you snap a photo or record a video with your iPhone, it creates information related to the file — including the creation date and your location — and then stores this metadata within your media.

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Although metadata has useful and even essential purposes, it can become a privacy issue — especially when it comes to your location. If someone has access to the photos you took on their smartphone, they can easily scour the metadata to identify locations and discover where you live, work, or study.

Fortunately, Apple has made it easy to remove (or even spoof) your location from photos and videos you take on your iPhone, so that prying eyes can’t see where you are. We’ll explain how to do it. 

For more on iPhone privacy, check out privacy settings you need to double-check, how to prevent ads from tracking you across the web and Safari browser privacy settings to change.

What exactly is photo metadata? The TL;DR version

Nearly every photo you take on your iPhone has a batch of hidden information stored within: metadata. This metadata, known more specifically as EXIF data for images, contains descriptive information that makes each image unique. That includes the creation date, camera information and settings and your location.

This information allows apps to quickly identify photos and organize them. On your iPhone, it’s why you can do something like arrange your photos by date taken, or why iOS can create those personalized Memories videos of you on vacation.

So metadata is extremely useful, unless it gets in the wrong hands. Someone with access to the metadata can discover where you go and where you live, and you can see how that could become a problem. If that gives you the creeps, you may want to strip the location metadata from your photos and videos.

How to remove your iPhone photos’ location information

Underneath every photo you take on your iPhone, you can see a map showing the approximate location of where the photo was taken. Here’s how to access this information and remove a photo’s location:

1. In the Photos app, navigate to the photo you want to adjust.

2. Now, either swipe up on the photo or tap the info (i) button to view the photo’s information.

3. Next, tap Adjust on the bottom right corner of the map. This will show the exact address or location where the photo was taken. 

4. Finally, tap No Location. You’ll be redirected back to the photo’s information, where the map will then disappear and the location metadata will be gone.

Location metadata for photos on iOS

All you have to do is swipe up on a photo, tap Adjust, and then tap No Location to remove a photo’s location metadata.

Screenshots by Nelson Aguilar/CNET

How to spoof a photo’s location metadata

If you don’t want to remove the location metadata, you can always spoof it, which means you assign another location to a photo instead. Although removing the location is preferred for privacy reasons, spoofing could make someone think you’re somewhere else, such as in another country.

1. Go back into the Photos app, choose a photo and swipe up to view the photo’s information.

2. In the map that appears, tap Adjust.

3. At the top of the Adjust Location page, enter a location or address into the search area. As you type, suggestions will appear underneath. 

4. Choose the location you want to give the photo. This will become the photo’s new location stored in the metadata.

How does my iPhone track my location?

Your iPhone uses something called Location Services to pinpoint your phone’s location, using a combination of GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspots and cell tower locations.

It’s what helps you find local events on Eventbrite, browse through movie times in the Cinemark Theatres app or tag where you are on Instagram — and it’s what marks your location anytime you take a photo.

Isn’t it good that my iPhone photos are geotagged?

For the most part, having your photo location tracked, or geotagged, is a good thing. Using search in the Photos app, you can enter a location like “Los Angeles,” and every photo you’ve ever taken in LA will appear. Every so often, I enjoy scrolling through the photos I took on vacation, which are easy to find only because of their location metadata.

So why should I care?

In the wrong hands, metadata can be used for malicious purposes. 

For example, let’s say you just met someone new, maybe from a dating site, and you’re interested in them. You take a few selfies at home and you send them via text. But before you can meet this person in person, things go sour and you end contact.

However, they have your photos, and with that, they could also have the metadata that can show where you live, work, eat or visit, depending on where you took the photos you sent. And for privacy reasons, that may make you uncomfortable.

You don’t have to worry about photos you upload to social networks

Fortunately for you, not all your photos or videos will contain location metadata, because it may have been wiped for you. For example, any photos or videos you upload to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media services have their EXIF data stripped, for privacy reasons. If someone downloads your photos from your social media accounts, there’s no way they can figure out your location from the metadata.

What else can I do to protect myself?

However, if your privacy concerns aren’t quelled by this metadata-stripping technique on your iPhone, you can always completely disable Location Services in your settings so that every single photo or video you take won’t have location metadata stored within:

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Tap on Privacy > Location Services.

3. Scroll down and tap on Camera.

4. Select Never.

Once Location Services is disabled for the Camera app, you’ll no longer see location metadata for the photos and videos you take.

Location services on iOS

Prevent the addition of location metadata for every photo you take by disabling Location Services.

Screenshots by Nelson Aguilar/CNET

Whether you’re a new user or hardened veteran on the iPhone, here are some of iOS 16’s best hidden features and everything new on iOS 16.

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