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Former detective explains why it's safer to send screenshots of photos rather than originals

Former detective explains why it's safer to send screenshots of photos rather than originals

'As far as safety, you can't un-ring a bell once the image is sent, so you have to be more vigilant about your surroundings and situational awareness.'

TikTok users are raising awareness about the need to be extremely careful with what is shared through phones and laptops. Chari Pack of Persnickety Box, a digital photo print service, took to the video-sharing platform late last month to share a phone photography tip about image metadata. These are details associated with the camera used to capture a photograph. From technical details including aperture, shutter speed, ISO number, focal depth, DPI to descriptive data such as image keywords, captions, titles, comments and administrative information, few people are aware of the hidden information stored in an image file.

In her video, which has been viewed more than 1.8 million times, Pack demonstrates how she can check whether her son is lying about where he is at any certain time by checking the image metadata of the photo he shares. "Here's the phone tip you don't want your kids or maybe your significant other to know about," she says in the clip. "Last night, I get a text from my son, saying, 'Mom, can I stay still 11? Sends me a picture, 'we're balling up.'"

Image Source: TikTok/persnicketybox

"I said, 'Son, I don't know what balling up means, but that looks fun.' Then I downloaded the photo. You download the photo onto your camera roll and you click the little 'i' right there," Pack continued, pointing to the information icon at the bottom of the screen. "That's gonna give you information, what time the actual photo was taken, where it was taken, and even what camera was used. Now I know right where you are at son. And if you really took this photo at that very moment. You're welcome." More than a thousand TikTok users commented on the video, with many pointing out that while the feature Pack talks about does exist, it is not 100% foolproof.

"You can press ADJUST and change the date/time, also. Not foolproof," wrote SabSam. "Trust me, your kids know about these things LOOOOONG before parents do," commented TheSmellySmell. However, PurePower34, a retired detective who used to deal with crimes against children, pointed out a darker side to how this info can be used by predators. In a clip stitched to Pack's video, he explained that those with the wrong intentions could use the metadata to figure out where you are and where you live.

Image Source: TikTok/purepower34

"The original video is great. Please watch it," he says in the video. "Now a different scenario. If you're online dating, you send photos to a stranger—you just sent them where you were. So, if you're standing on your porch when you took the photo, that could be an issue." PurePower recommends that instead of sending a raw photo to others, it is always safer to send a screenshot of the image. "A screenshot doesn't have that information. Take a screenshot of the photo, send the screenshot," he added. Speaking to Bored Panda, he explained: "I worked crimes against children and hunted child predators around the world; we worked with Interpol to solve cases wherever they led. We would use clues in the image itself as well as any Exif info attached to the photo. They have Exif scrubber apps that will remove the data from the image, but the simplest way is to take a screenshot."

"As far as safety, you can't un-ring a bell once the image is sent, so you have to be more vigilant about your surroundings and situational awareness," said PurePower. "Apple just announced you'll be able to recall messages for 15 minutes, so maybe images will be included in iOS 16? Metadata is always a concern, but it's more common for people (especially kids) to not pay attention to their background. With image searching programs, sometimes you can narrow down a photo that could have been taken anywhere in the world, to a sidewalk." 

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