Keeping Your Privacy: Face Blurring & EXIF Data

This post is part of a series called “Keeping Your Privacy”.

It has been truly remarkable to see the protests around the world in the last two weeks. A message seems to be spreading and getting through to politicians and those in power at least seem to acknowledge that something has to change going forward.

The liability in the White House hasn’t exactly helped matters state side but with a white supremacist in the hot seat it’s not exactly a surprise. You don’t even have to think too far back to some of the early remarks on Charlottesville for an indication of who Trump really is. Anyhow, I digress as that isn’t the topic at hand.

There are a few things that people protesting need to remember from my experience and I’ve seen countless others say similar.

  • Keep your face covered, once these protests are over I have zero doubt that the police will try and start to identify people taking part.
  • The same goes for those with microphones/amplifiers. You’ll be even more of a target for being more active in the protest
  • By all means, take and share photos, videos and whatever else you want to but crucially cover faces. Traditionally people would blur these but I’m not so sure that is a good idea any more which I’ll elaborate more on below.

Blurred Lines

Over the years I’ve seen plenty of people blur photos and videos of people taking part in protests to hide their identity. After recently researching more into it and finding the work of Vladimir Yuzhikov - I would highly recommend covering with a big block of colour to hide peoples identities and no longing use blur as an effective privacy tool.

What I also feel strongly about is that while Vladimir was able to achieve these fantastic results with modest software and knowledge - I’m sure that law enforcement staff have a tool which will de-blur a lot quicker and provide immediate results.

Be Wary of

One last thought here is that I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter offering to help ‘cover up’ protesters faces and protect their privacy for you. While I’m sure most of these offers are genuine I couldn’t help the uneasy feeling I had - I’d bet that some of those offering help were likely police phishing around for photos and videos from the protests as they’re now collecting evidence which will likely lead to arrests in future.

In short, I’d stick with the same rule I have for sending money to people online - don’t do it unless you know them in person.

One Last Thing - EXIF

When you take a photo, your camera embeds certain data inside the photo file. This contains things like light levels, camera configuration and sometimes the physical location the photograph was taken in (some video recording hardware does this in a slightly different way - Go Pro for example).

Before you share your photos/videos online - I’d highly, highly recommend you strip the EXIF data from your files - at a minimum remove the location data.

For an iPhone, follow this iMore guide. Also this is easy on an iOS or Mac device, for other platforms I can imagine this being difficult to do.

Android has Metadata Cleaner but I’ve not personally tested that. For those on Windows, give ExifPurge a try. Linux users can use the brilliant exiftool to handle their images.

If you’re on a different platform then I’d suggest you try Googling for 'Remove Exif data fromon’ and see what you find.