July 30, 2007

Beware your metadata trail

…at least if you’re planning to commit crimes.  The British Times Online reports that the EXIF metadata embedded in digital camera images could be used to track down whoever photographed each page of the final Harry Potter novel & uploaded it prior to the book’s release:

The information, known as Exchangeable Image File Format (Exif) data, has already revealed that the camera used was a Canon Rebel 350. Because the model is three years old, the device would likely have been serviced at least once since it was purchased, in which case the owner’s name would be known. [Via]

The reality in this case, I think, is that identifying and prosecuting the shooter would be difficult.  The camera owner would have had to have registered the camera and have had it serviced, and even with a name authorities would have to demonstrate that the person then used the camera to photograph the pages and upload the results.

Still, it’s another interesting example of digital devices recording more fingerprints than most people expect.  As devices get smarter, they’ll leave a longer trail of breadcrumbs–for better and for worse.  (How much info must be contained in an image from a GPS-enabled cellphone camera, for example?)

Adobe often ends up in a tug of war: some people really want to make metadata secure, while others want easy ways to strip it away.  Photographers seem most sensitive in this regard, wanting to ensure that their copyright info is preserved, while optionally stripping out revealing details of how, when, and where an image was captured.  On other occasions I’ve heard law enforcement folks wish aloud that Photoshop automatically inserted some trackable info into each file based on serial number.  (Don’t worry: that’s been met with an immediate, “Um yeeeah, noooo…”)

In any case, I think there’s some low-hanging fruit here.  We should offer a simple script that would let Bridge remove metadata from images, trusting that most people would use it for good & not for evil.  If you have other suggestions, please let us know.

11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments [12]
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