SPECIAL REPORT: How posting pictures on social media can lead anyone to your exact location

(KYTX) - When you post a picture online, it seems pretty innocent. But what you may not realize, is if you send those pictures from a smart phone, there is location data attached, which shows people exactly where you are.
This is called Geo-tagging. CBS 19's Courtney Friedman joins us now in the newsroom to tell us more about it -- Courtney, how are is technology like Geo tagging leading to crime?

In the past 5 years, Tyler Police have reported 21 offenses where criminals used smart phones and social media to commit sexually explicit crimes.    

A lot of those recent cases involve Geo tagging.
If you or your child post photos from a GPS device like your phone, without controlling privacy settings, your location is out in the open for all online predators to see.

They're the most popular apps on smart phones today facebook, instagram, vine, twitter.

They all have something in common pictures.

Now those pictures come attached to location data that can make you vulnerable to predators. 

"It's called mega data that is imprinted into the JPEGS when you take a picture it actually gives the longitude and latitude of where you are," explains Dan Philips. 

Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Dan Phillips lives in Tyler, and spends lots of time educating parents in his community about dangerous social media trends like Geo-tagging.

"I think what most parents are oblivious to is that when their kid posts something, it's basically telling whoever's looking at that, exactly where their kids are."

On some apps, like Instagram, locations are tracked down to the exact address.

"Somebody could open this up, hit that and see exactly where we were."

Online predators gain access to kids online by making up fake identities

"You can make up any name, put up any picture, and if your child is willing to accept a friend request, an Instagram request, you really have no idea who's on the other end of that computer."

It's a concept that keeps Tyler mom Paula Evans up at night.

" Look we're on my street, we're still going. In my neighborhood, Yeah. You're at my house! That's creepy," says Evans. 

Evans is now making sure her 20 year old son and 17-year-old daughter - turn off Geo tagging capabilities on their phones.

"Hers is turned off  because it's grey and not dark grey."

It's a constant battle .

"I don't know how you always stay on top of it because there's always something new coming out," says Evans. 

But it's a battle she won't give up.

"Never say never. It can always happen to you. And I feel like as parents we become very complacent."

We wanted to show you just how dangerous complacency can be.

We have permission from one of our photographer's brothers around, and we're going to play something we're calling instagram tag. He's going to be taking 13 year old Ana around and she's going to be posting Instagram pictures onto her profile to see if we can find out where she is.

So we just got our first picture post from Ana. It shows that she's at the Putt Putt Golf Course here on Loop 323 so we followed her here, and low and behold, you can see her right there in front of us putting   

So Ana posted yet another picture and we found this one on the corner of Rice Road and South Broadway and when we clicked on the picture, we saw she was here at Times Square Cinema.

When Ana came out of the theater, we told her what we'd been up to and she was shocked.

"Its kind of weird and creepy," says Ana.

So check your phone settings. You can turn location services off there, and also within each individual app.

"Twitter is off. Anything where I might post a picture."

Phillips says family communication is crucial.

"If you're going to give your child a cell phone, you need to have a cell phone contract."

You get to decide what apps your child downloads, and with whom the kids are connected.

"My daughter, occasionally I'll just take her phone and see what's on it and she knows I do that. I'm paying for it, it's my right, I get to do that."

 Staying involved means staying safe. 

Geo tagging can be turned off on every type of smart phone iPhones, Droids, Blackberries, but the process is different for each of them.

All you have to do is go online and look up "how do I turn off Geo-tagging on my phone?" There are lots of websites that will walk you through the easy process. 

It doesn't take long, and it's time well spent!

Many different types of predators are taking advantage of Geo Tagging. The technology can show bullies where their targets are at all times.

Phillips says many thieves sit online all day waiting for victims to post proof that they're out of town. 

Vacation photos make their crimes easier to commit.


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