In an interesting article for Vice’s Motherboard, Asia Murphy describes the plight of herpetologists who want to share their findings on social media: all too often, their subjects are tracked down by eager hunters to be killed. How? GPS data embedded in their digital photos.
“Collectors certainly use Instagram, forums, and other online resources to find new populations to pillage”
Yes, that’s right, collectors of dead animal bodies (or amateur, soon-to-be sociopaths) are using photo-sharing platforms to source new locations for prey. Often enough, they don’t even have to go through the trouble of tracking a photo’s GPS location, instead using a recognizable landmark in a shot as a clue (think 4chan tracking down Shia Labeouf in under a day).
“‘Turn off anything that transmits location before you visit it,’ he said.”
Luckily for those of us who are too afraid of getting lost to turn off our GPS ever, two apps–HerpMapper and iNaturalist–will automatically obscure GPS data for you. Also fortunately, it turns out that the most popular sharing sites–Instagram and Facebook–automatically scrub location data from any photographs uploaded. However, the author notes a German court case in which it was concluded that such stripping of data is copyright infringement, meaning even this protection may soon be on its way out.
In sum, before capturing a shot of that endangered gazelle and posting it for all your friends gawk at, ask yourself: will this photo be the last remnants of a once mighty species whose demise I am helping to bring about? Does that tree in the background let everyone who wants to know where I am my precise location so they can come and find my furry friends and murder them in cold blood? Is it really worth the ‘likes’?