Stalking by Photographs: Dangers of the Smart Phone

Stalking by Photographs: Dangers of the Smart Phone

Varun Kapoor, IPS
Additional Director General of Police, Narcotics and PRTS, Indore


Technology has given us great comfort and ease in living our day to day lives but this comfort is also been provided (albeit inadvertently) to the criminal too in carrying out his nefarious activities! All gadgets and tools that are available to the common citizen are being regularly upgraded in this ever changing world to benefit them in terms of time, cost and efficiency. These upgrades are so rapid that the average user sometimes does not even know that changes have been wrought in the functioning and operation of the gadgets at his disposal. Frankly speaking the individual user is also not too concerned with these changes – as long as he gets better and faster service. This often leads to grave danger for the user because there are many who can misuse these changes to their detriment.


A case in point is the Smart phone. This phone is called “smart” not because it is a fad now days to call everything “smart”. There are smart cars, smart refrigerators, smart watches, smart televisions even smart cities! This innocuous device which fits in the palm of our hand is called “smart” because it actually is smart! One such feature which contributes to its smartness is the fact that it is GPS enabled. Off course GPS means Global Positioning System. This is a satellite based navigation system that uses 24 satellites posted in space and they give a Three Dimensional (3D) fix for any object on the globe. The system is so accurate that it can define the exact position of any object with an error of only + 3 meters. In any Smart phone this GPS is enabled by default that means that the GPS is automatically turned on.


With such a GPS enabled phone if a user takes a photograph or what today is better known as a selfie – then the latitude and longitude get attached to the selfie automatically. And latitude and longitude means the exact location from which the selfie was clicked. Dangerous? Very – as will be described shortly in the following paragraphs and cases.


In the United Kingdom a gruesome case occurred as a result of this selfie fever that has gripped the world. Not realizing the “smartness” of a smart phone a teenager in London who had won a lottery worth considerable amount of Pounds Sterling (currency of UK) – was so overjoyed and did such a risky act that it resulted in grave tragedy for her and others. She kept the money in front, made her grandmother sit with her, clicked a selfie and posted it online. Basically to show how rich and how happy she was! But alas – all who inhabit this virtual world are not noble beings. They do not easily get happy seeing someone else happy and especially rich! These often are called by the name online predators.


So what do these predators do. Very simple – they download the posted photograph. Off course they only use the ones that seem interesting to them, like the one posted by the teenager of UK. They then right click on this downloaded photograph. After that they go to the “Properties” and in that they find the latitude and longitude at which the photo was taken. They then copy this latitude and longitude and then post it in Google Maps. As a result they get the exact location or address from which the photograph was taken.


It so happened that some such Online Predators did the same with the teenagers’ selfie and found out the exact address and raided the house that night. In that raid they burgled the house completely. They even killed the poor little teenager and her grandmother and took away the entire amount that she had won. A very sad and bad end to a seemingly innocuous act of the girl.


A similar case occurred just last year to the famous reality star of the US – Kim Kardashian. She happened to be visiting Paris along with her mother and sister. Paris off course is the fashion capital of the world and probably Kim did get carried away. They checked into a posh apartment and apparently had a lot of jewellery with them. They wanted to flaunt it too. So they took a number of photos wearing all the expensive jewels and in the classy environs of their apartment. These they proceeded to post on Instagram to demonstrate their luxury and elation. Again the Online Predators jumped at the invitation. They found out the location of the flat and raided it one afternoon. Kim was out but her mother and sister were home. These criminals bound the two ladies up and thrashed them badly and also decamped with the jewels that the ladies were so happily showcasing online. Paris was not all fun and fashion – as the Kardishians found out to their bad luck.


Thus the moral of the story is that if we operate a smart phone we too should be smart. We should not allow this wonder gadget from becoming smarter than us. What do we do – “its elementary Dr Watson” – as the legendry Sherlock Holmes would have said! We should disable the GPS for the camera and then click selfies, that way the latitude and longitude will not get combined with it. In iPhones we can go to the “Privacy Settings” feature and find “Location Services” in it. We open the Location Services section and disable it for the camera. For other Android phones this feature is called “Geo-Tagging” and we should find it in the settings and disable it.


If we do the above safety exercise – next time we click a selfie our location will not be combined with it and we will be saved the risk of stalking through our photos. But still the recommendation to top this measure is that we should post least number of photographs online as this is our personal information and in wrong hands it can only do more harm than good to us.