Sharing photos online is a critical part of how we connect with one another. Whether it's X (formerly Twitter) or Mastodon, Instagram or Pixelfed, or even just SMS or Signal, sharing pictures is synonymous with sharing our experiences. But this habit comes with a risk some aren't aware of: doxing yourself and/or your family via the photo's EXIF metadata.
What is EXIF metadata and why you may want to remove it
Most digital photos we take store what's known as EXIF metadata, which stands for exchangeable image file format. This metadata can be really useful to photographers, because it includes things like the camera type, aperture, focal length, and so on. But for the average smartphone and digital camera user, this information isn't of much use.
In fact, EXIF metadata may actually reveal some details we wish to keep private, like where and when the photo was taken. This information may accidentally reveal where we live, where we work, where our children are during what times of day, etc.
Now, this isn't something most people would or even should worry about, but it's still important to know. It's also important to know how to remove EXIF metadata from photos should you wish. Thankfully, there are several easy was to do this, and I'm going to show you a few.
How to remove EXIF metadata on Android
If you are on Android, there is an app called Scrambled Exif which streamlines this process. Once you've installed the app onto your Android device, using it is almost as easy as sharing a photo normally. Here's how:
- Open the gallery app on your Android device.
- Navigate to the photo you wish to share, and open it.
- Tap the share button. This will be in a different location for everyone, depending on the device or photo gallery app.
- Select Scrambled Exif.
- A second prompt will pop up asking you where to share the photo again.
- Now, select the service or app you wish to share the photo on.
You can download Scrambled Exif from the app's Gitlab page at the link below.
How to remove EXIF metadata on iOS
This is one of the many realms iOS has a leg up on Android as far as privacy is concerned. Whereas Android requires the use of a third-party app to remove EXIF metadata, iOS has this feature built into the OS. Here's how to use it:
- Open the iOS Photos app.
- Navigate to the photo you wish to share, and tap it.
- Now tap the share button toward the bottom left.
- Here, you will see a few different options. Navigate to "ViewExif," and tap it.
- First, you'll see the metadata available for this photo. Should you want to share it without any of this information, tap the share button again, but this time it'll be at the top left.
- You'll be given the option to save and share this photo without metadata, or even to share it as is. Tap Save without Metadata or Share without Metadata.
- If you save the photo, it will appear at the bottom of your camera roll. If you chose to share it, you can now select the service or app you wish to share the photo on.
How to remove EXIF metadata on Windows, Mac, or Linux
There are many different ways to remove EXIF data from photos on the desktop. I've already touched on a Linux desktop application in the past called Metadata Cleaner. You can check that out in my post highlighting 3 Linux apps to boost your digital privacy.
If you aren't on Linux or you don't want to use Metadata Cleaner for some reason, I have another cross-platform option for you. It's a piece of free software called ExifCleaner, and here's how to use it:
- Download and install ExifCleaner for your desktop of choice.
- Once installed, open the app.
- Drag and drop any photos you wish to remove EXIF metadata from.
- ExifCleaner will automatically remove metadata from these photos and save them to the same location they were originally stored.
- Now, you can share those photos online anywhere you wish.
You check out ExifCleaner's website at the link below.
Keep in mind, many apps and services will actually remove EXIF metadata when you share photos on their platform. That being said, there is no harm in going through these few extra steps, regardless of where you are sharing the photo. It will assure that as little private EXIF data as possible leaks online without you knowing.
I'd also like to reiterate that most people shouldn't need to sweat this too much, though it obviously depends on your threat model. In general, it's a good practice to be in once you get in the habit of first going through these steps before sharing photos online.
Do you have a technique or app for removing EXIF metadata and wish to share it with everyone? Feel free to leave a comment about it below.