Did you know your digital photos and videos contain easily-accessible information? It can be innocuous, such as the app you used to edit it, or more sensitive, such as the exact location it was taken.
This material is called metadata, and can lead to you sharing information you'd rather keep private. It also slightly increases the size of your files, taking up more storage space and making them load more slowly.
The good news is it's pretty easy to remove metadata from your photos and videos, and you can prevent the location aspects from being captured in the first place.
Metadata comes in various shapes and sizes, but is generally limited to:
- date and time of the photo or video
- any editing software used to tweak the image, as well as when the edits happened
- camera device make and model
- camera settings such as shutter speed, ISO speed, flash mode, and many more
- exact GPS coordinates of where the photo or video was taken – and potentially altitude.
The 'why' of metadata's existence is more complicated. Some information about the photo or video such as device make and model, shutter settings and editing software can help other people improve their own skills by finding images or videos they like and studying what went into creating them.
Date, time and GPS coordinates have a number of uses. Some are for what developers call quality of life (QOL) improvements that enhance the user experience. For example, Google Photos and Apple Photos let you sort or search your library by date/time and location.
Many photos and videos can store the exact GPS coordinates of where they were taken.
They can even automatically create albums based on this information – if you spent a few weeks ambling around Europe in 2019, it's easy for an algorithm to identify your holiday and label it as such.
Some image-sharing services and messenger apps remove metadata when you post a photo, but that's not always the case. An easy way to check is to re-download a posted image and see if any metadata is still embedded. If there's nothing, it's a good bet the service is doing the job for you.
But this isn't always the case, and any image file you personally share with someone by direct transfer will definitely still have its metadata.
The vast majority of photos and videos are taken on smartphones, and you can generally only prevent GPS metadata from being included. You can do this by disabling location services for your camera app.
Just keep in mind, in doing so you lose those aforementioned QOL features.
The specifics of disabling location for photos and video varies per phone, but is generally similar. Open your smartphone's camera app and navigate to the settings menu. Look for any setting with the word "location", such as Save location, Location tracking, or Location data, and turn it off. For iPhones, this feature lives in Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
If you can't find such a setting, look for additional menu layers, often labelled as 'More options' or 'Advanced settings'.
Windows makes it easy to remove metadata en-masse. Right-click on a file, or select multiple files and right-click any one of them, then click Properties, followed by the Details tab.
Windows makes it easy to remove metadata en-masse.
Here you can see all the metadata for the file you clicked. At the bottom of the tab, click on Remove Properties and Personal Information, which will remove metadata from all selected files – not just the one you right-clicked on.
Once the process bar completes, a new window will pop up with a warning about deleting personal information asking you to choose between two options:
- The first creates a copy of the file or files with no metadata, but leaves the originals intact.
- The second removes the metadata from the original file or files and deletes it all.
You can choose to make a copy, keeping the original file with metadata intact, or delete the metadata altogether.
It's up to you which you choose. If you choose the second option, you can either select types of metadata individually or click Select all. Hit OK to finalise.
Any data left in the Details tab should be general, such as the dimensions of an image, or for use of your operating system and local network to identify the file, such as owner and computer name.
If you have trouble eliminating all metadata, there are many third-party programs you can use such as Easy Exif Delete or EXIFPurge, among others.
The default image viewing app on macOS, Preview, only has built-in location data removal. Open your image in Preview then select Tools > Show Inspector, then click the information tab depicted by an (i) to the left of the search icon. Click on the GPS tab and, at the bottom, Remove Location Info.
To remove the rest of the metadata, most of which is found in the Exif tab of the above information tab menu, you'll need to download a separate program such as EXIFPurge or ImageOptim.
You can remove the built-in location data on Preview, but will need a separate app to delete other data.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.