Ask LH: How Can I Remove Personal Info From Photographs?

Dear Lifehacker, I've heard that a lot of new cameras (especially smartphone cameras) can store personal information like my location in photos. How can I get rid of this and protect my privacy? Signed, Stressed About Security

Dear Stressed, When you take a picture with your digital camera, it stores all sorts of information, called EXIF (Exchangable Image File) data, in the photo's file. This includes things like type of camera, shutter speed or the date the photo was taken. However, many new cameras — especially the cameras built into iPhone and Android phones — will also store your GPS location by default, which could easily lead someone to your home address or phone number.

If you'd like to keep that information private (so you don't end up like esteemed New York Congressman Christopher Lee), it's quite simple. Here's how to do it on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Windows

Windows has the ability to remove this information built in, which is really handy. All you need to do is select a photo or group of photos in Windows Explorer, right-click on them, and hit Properties. Under the Details tab, you'll find a link (near the bottom of the window) that says "Remove Properties and Personal Information". Click that, and hit OK in the window that comes up. You'll notice that you'll have a copy of each photo in that same folder. The copied photos will be the one with clean data, which are safe to share with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, or other places on the web.

Mac OS X

Mac users will have to download some extra software to get the job done. The easiest tool is an app called SmallImage. Click here to go to the project's home page and download the file (Snow Leopard users should note the red text at the bottom of the page; you'll need a newer version of the app).

Open up the app and drag the photos you want to clean into its window. Uncheck the "Recompress at quality" box, since we want to keep the photos high quality. Then, just hit "Process" and you'll see copies of all the photos show up in their folder. If you want to replace the original photos instead of creating copies, you can just uncheck the "Add Suffix" box (as shown in the above photo), and it will just replace the original photos with clean ones.

Linux

Linux users can use a tool called EXIFTool (which is available for Windows and OS X too, but is a command line tool, so we opted for the easier alternatives above). You can install it on Ubuntu by running the command:

sudo apt-get install libimage-exiftool-perl

Then, to clean your photos, just cd to the their folder and run:

exiftool -all= *.jpg

It will make copies of all your photos for you, adding _original to the end of the original photos (with the personal information still intact).

There are a lot of other programs out there, but these are some of the easiest ways to delete any personal information that may be lingering in your photos. Keep in mind you'll still need to do manual photo editing if your address or phone number is in the shot itself — this only removes data from the file on your computer, not the visible picture.

Cheers, Lifehacker


Comments

    Your example of Congressman Christopher Lee's run-in with EXIF data is a bit of a stretch...

    Why not something more entertaining (and embarrassing) like Cat Schwartz: http://hektik.org/site/cat-schwartz-nude (NSFW)? ;)

    I would be nice if there was an application on Android and Joe to do this to clean up on the handset

    Ah, I think it is even easier than that on an iPhone. Go to Settings-General-Location Services and turn it off for the camera. Won't get rid of other exif, but it won't add GPS to your photo, and doesn't require any other program.

    But can you selectively turn off gps data from your iPhone pictures? I use geo tagging info when filing my pictures but do not want to advertise them when uploading them via the iPhone Facebook app?

    The Windows' feature "Remove Properties and Personal Information" does not actually delete metadata from photos!! You can check it out with a hex editor. For removing Exif, you should use specialized software like this batch Exif remover: http://www.superutils.com/products/exifcleaner/

    EXIF Date Changer will also do this in Windows. The latest version has an option to strip out EXIF data completely on a group of files. Really useful before distributing your images, or posting on facebook.

    http://www.exifdatechanger.com

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