News 18 Investigates: Digital Safety

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – No matter the occasion, posting photos on social media sites has become a part of our daily lives.

“I’m pretty big on Facebook,” said Scott Cooper a social media user.

But those photos you’re posting, may not be as harmless as you think.

“You can basically stalk anybody in the world, from any place else in the world,” explained Purdue Cyberforensics professor Marcus Rogers.

Rogers said this generation’s obsession with posting everything online is an open invitation for sexual predators.

“I want everybody in the world to know everything I’m doing, every second of the day,” said Rogers. And, that’s a great thing for friends, but it’s also showing everything you’re doing, every second of the day, not just those you want to know about it.”

Rogers said virtual stalking has become a problem since GPS became standard on most phones, nearly five years ago. Since then, stalking has become more personal than ever.

“Before, stalking had to be something that was kind of up close and personal, for lack of better term,” said Rogers. “You had to be at least in the same area, the same geographic location. Now, you can do it to anybody, anywhere.”

So, how are these predators doing it?

Each picture has what is called a geo-code embedded in the photo. All a predator has to do is go to the picture’s properties. From there, they can find information like the type of camera used, the time of day, and even the GPS coordinates of exactly where that photo was taken.

“That information can be put in to something like Google Maps or Google Earth, and it can actually get an exact picture from space of exactly where that location is including the house, where the house is on the street, where the street is on the block, where the block is within the town or the city, and you can create a map to get there,” explained Rogers.

That worries father of four Scott Cooper, which is why he said he refrains from uploading photos in real time. Rogers said it can help keep predators away.

“I’m very proud of my family, my boys are my life, so I post photos. But we’re very careful — there’s been times where I’ve waited,” said Cooper.

So, how can you prevent this from happening?

That’s the question Cooper and other parents want answered. It’s also one Rogers said many social media sites are working to fix.

“What these sites are doing now is the software is going through from Facebook or from Pinterest, and getting rid of that information,” said Rogers. “Basically, just deleting that information out.”

However, that doesn’t mean we’re completely safe.

Rogers said many of these sites are linked to your phone’s apps, which also include GPS locators. He said it is up to you to keep an eye on not only what your kids are posting, but what you’re posting of your family.

“There’s never going to be a 100 percent security, there’s never going to be 100 percent privacy, there’s always going to be a risk of doing stuff online,” said Rogers. “It’s just a matter of being aware that these things are out there, explaining the dangers to your kids, learn the dangers yourself, and be informed about what you really want to share.”

We want our viewers to know we didn’t give predators any ideas by doing this story. In fact, Marcus Rogers says this form of stalking is well known to most predators. That is why we want to educate you, so you can keep you and your family safe on the internet.

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