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Thinking about Images in Social Networks

March 27, 2013

Images are great, we love using them to communicate, and now its said that facebook posts now contain an image 50% of the time.

But with social networks that actually seek your data in order to sell it on…which is the majority, you have to ask yourself, how much data did you just give over by posting a pic?  They say an image is worth a thousand words…..but with todays imaging technology perhaps that should be 10,000 words!

Let me expand a little on how this works with todays technology. You probably know information like date and time is embedded in your digital photograph, but in fact there is a load more data than just that. The data is stored in the image itself in a format called EXIF. What you may not be aware of is that this data can also include your GPS information.  In other words not only what time you took the picture, but exactly where you took it!  To get a better idea download one of the many EXIF viewers from your mobile app store and take a look at the EXIF data of a picture you took.  Then turn on GPS and take another pic and see the additional info embedded in the picture.

The next issue is image recognition.  Facebook caused a storm of protest when they used facial recognition in their social network, and turned it on by default.  So if you happened to be in the background of someone else pic, you could have been identified.  Combine that with the EXIF data and you start to see how intrusive this technology can be.  Now technology has moved on to try and identify objects and brands in your pics….so social networks can sell this information on.  Combine that with associated text like “Little Jimmy’s Birthday”, plus the name of the person posting and you can see how quickly highly intrusive perspectives on your private life that you did not realise you were sharing can get shared.

So next time you post a pic to a social network…THINK first.

In the Krowd, we explicitly go in the opposite direction of other social networks.  We seek to minimise the amount of data we hold on our users, and also protect them from inadvertent exposure of information.  So how do we do this for images?

Well first we strip all EXIF data from any image that is posted and stored.  So only the date/time of your post indicates a possible date/time of the picture.

Second, we reduce the image resolution down to the minimum needed to view the picture on your phone or tablet.   This is important because most cameras take very high resolution pictures today, far higher resolution than the eye can behold (the idea is that if you blew up the pic to wall sized it would still look good), in reality you only need 3M pixels to be able to print a decent quality pic on A4/US letter sized paper.  Who needs more than that?  Well the answer is going to be the image recognition guys.  Because although the eye cannot perceive it there is image data stored that can see the letters on your clothing label, and if they can only see part of it, perhaps blurred, well they can apply digital enhancement technology to determine what is written.  More than that they are developing object recognition, to be able to tell one brand of shoe from another, or one chair make from another.

So when I say a picture tells a 10,000 word story perhaps it should be  100,000 word mini novel!

Be careful what you post, what you see is not all you are sending when posting todays high res images.

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