Within the last five years, the medium of digital photography has grown by leaps and bounds. One can only begin to mention the many benefits of digital imaging: the ability to delete unwanted or poor pictures on the spot, the ease of being able to touch up a print from one’s own computer, and the ability to share one’s pictures immediately versus the wait of film development. On the other hand, digital photography has provided its own host of problems as well, from the immediate transmittal of pictures that one may not want seen by others, the sending of sexually explicit pictures by own children, and the theft or plagiarism of one’s work without compensation.
Lately, the new hot topic in digital photography has been the inclusion of latitude and longitude points into one’s photographs, or geotagging. This process occurs with the aid of GPS chips in our cameras and phones and more controversially, without warning to the photographer. The most prominent example of this was about an ABC News story a picture taken at the home of Mythbusters’ Host Adam Savage. Unbeknown to Adam, the picture he took contained the exact GPS location of his home, which was then broadcast across the internet to any interested viewer or fan of the show. Given his public stature, it is safe to say that this unwanted disclosure likely led to more than a few unwelcome visits from eager fans or members of the public.
Before I delve further into the negatives of geotagging, I should note the benefits that are offered. One of the most important opportunity for advertisers is the ability of targeted marketing. Marketers want their dollars, like anyone else, to go as far as they realistically can. While a $10 million buy for Viagra ads can bring in sales, these types of ads usually go the farthest for males aged 50 and above. If an advertiser could ensure that a higher percentage of this ads are solely viewed by their target demographic, the benefit to them revenue wise increases significantly. Another perk of geotagging is the ability for one to be able to pull photographs by specific locations; one may want a picture of Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but a generic photograph search of Stillwater may not be specifc enough for the viewer. However, if one was able to search by all pictures for a specific sector, then they would be able to narrow down the images requested to their specific needs.
While I have tried to avoid an “anti-geotagging” slant, I must point out that this capability can pose some serious safety and privacy risks. One of the most dangerous potential problems is the ability for pedophiles to track children and teenagers’ profiles through tagging of houses with children. We already are aware of the dangers of putting pictures up of our children in swimsuits online, but this threatens to take the problem to a whole new level. Pedophiles could map a neighborhood by the number of children and use that to target them in a sinister way. One immediate way to fix this is to disable geotagging in any picture with children; while this may infringe on the freedoms of the photographer, we need to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to the dangers we face in this area. Another major issue is the use of marketing that invades on one’s privacy. If we start taking pictures of those in hospitals and use that to bombard them with life insurance and prescription ads, we need to evaluate how ethical it is to use someone else’s pain for another’s gain.
Geotagging does undoubtedly have its benefits, but we need to seriously balance the risks that come with entering this new world. Just like the Internet has brought us the ability on one end of the spectrum incredible breakthroughs in the spread of Christianity and perverse material on the other, we need to keep this in mind with the greater use of geotagging in the future; the key word is balance.