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Pa. Cops: Smartphone Photos Inadvertently Give Information To Predators

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Technology makes it easier than ever to instantly share photos with friends and families, and with smartphones increasing in popularity, the habit is getting even more popular.

But the fun, simple process can be leaving an invisible trail, which, in the wrong hands, could be extremely dangerous.

"It's a GPS device just like your GPS in your car. You could actually plot out a person's comings and goings," said Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Robert Erdely, of the Computer Crimes unit.

Hackers can take advantage of geotracking material in people's smartphones to find people and their children when they post pictures online. When photos are uploaded to social networking sites, strangers can track the home, school or workplace where they were taken -- and it only takes a few simple steps.

With the click of a mouse, Erdely was able to pinpoint the location where photos were taken of a WJAC-TV News reporter and her children at an ice cream stand and park.

"It can be down to a matter of feet in the location where you did in fact take that picture," he said. "Even if it's within a one block radius, a persistent individual could eventually see the child as they're walking around the neighborhood, waiting for a bus."

At a playground, parents like Shiloh Hockenberry of Johnstown said, "That's definitely scary. A scary thought."

Shannon Dixon, also of Johnstown, said, "To know that somebody could maybe come and follow you … stalk my kids. You know, a predator could come, Yeah that's very scary to me. … I never realized that. I did not know that could even happen."

Erdely said only Facebook stripped the information that was embedded on photos -- but that doesn't make a person entirely safe.

"This feature could have just recently been turned on and old pictures that have been on the (Facebook) site for some time may still have that geotagging information in it. It was a limited test I performed," he said.

For people with iPhones, they can turn off the geotagging feature on the camera by going into "Settings," hitting the "General" button, then click "Location Services." Then, deactivate the camera application by putting it in the "Off" position.

For those with BlackBerrys, Droids or Palms visit the website "I Can Stalk U': Raising Awareness About Inadvertent Information Sharing," for step-by-step instructions on how to deactivate geotag settings.

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