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August 14, 2011

Stolen Camera Finder — Benefit or privacy hazard?

Screen Shot 2011-08-13 at 10.01.50 AM

"Stolen Camera Finder uses the serial number stored in your photos to search the web for photos taken with the same camera."

How it works: "Every photo you take with your digital camera contains hidden information about both the image and the camera such as the make, model and date. This information, called EXIF data, can also include a unique serial number which identifies your camera."

"Stolen Camera Finder crawls the internet searching for photos, collecting the serial numbers of the cameras that took them."

"When you use the Drag & Drop feature,

Stolencamera-1
Stolen Camera Finder reads the unique serial number from the EXIF data of your photo [top] and uses it to match against serial numbers it has stored."

Also looks to be useful if you're curious about whether any of your photos have quietly gone viral.

But there's another use for this technology, and it may not be to your advantage.

To that end, a June 27, 2011 post on petapixel had this to say:

A few months ago, we reported on a new website called Stolen Camera Finder. It's an image search engine that relies on that fact that camera serial numbers are often baked into the EXIF data of photos — a fact that most camera users probably don't know. By providing a camera's serial number, the website attempts to find all the other images on the Internet taken with the same camera, thereby helping you find your stolen camera.

If you think about it, there are major similarities between this serial number search engine and the 2006 AOL scandal — namely the fact that anonymized IDs (unique IDs vs. serial numbers) can be easily linked to real identities. Even more so than search queries, photographs often contain information that can help identify the person behind them (a Facebook profile picture, for example).

What's interesting is that there doesn’t appear to be any backlash over the fact that serial numbers can be easily searched for now. Virtually all of the articles covering the Stolen Camera Finder focused on how useful it is for finding stolen cameras, rather than how big of a privacy concern it poses for people who might not want all of the photographs taken by their cameras to be tied to their name.

Perhaps if this became a bigger deal, camera makers would offer the option to keep this kind of information from being stored in the EXIF data of photos. What do you think?

[via Joe Peach]

August 14, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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