139th News

Air Force officials caution against geotags, location-based services

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Karen Tomasik
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Social media offers many Airmen another way to keep in
touch with colleagues, friends and family, but users need to be aware of the
risks associated with technical tools that help them share information,
officials said Jan. 7.

As more Airmen and their family members use smartphones to take pictures and
access social networking sites, they could be inadvertently posting
information showing the exact geographic location of their home, work
location, or daily travel patterns through technology known as "geotagging."

"When Airmen post photos to the web or post their location via
location-based software applications such as 'Foursquare' and 'Facebook
Places,' a savvy terrorist or criminal can easily track where they live and
work, their route of travel and even determine if they're away from home,"
said Maj. Gen. John Weida, the assistant deputy chief of staff for
operations, plans and requirements. "These slips in innocent communication
between, family, friends and colleagues can potentially cause an
operations-security vulnerability."

Because geotagging adds geographical identification to photographs, video,
websites and SMS messages, people can tag a location on their photos, even
if their camera or smartphone does not have a GPS function.

"Geotags and location-based software updates are just the latest challenge;
a simple search for 'Afghanistan' on sites such as Flickr or Google Images
can reveal thousands of location tagged photographs that have been
uploaded," General Weida said. "We need to encourage all Airmen, civilians,
contractors, and family members to practice good OPSEC and remain aware of
what information they are placing in the public domain."

Many phones are automatically set up to capture this information by default,
and users will have to navigate through their phone settings to disable this

Whether global contingency operations are classified or non-classified, the
missions may be still be sensitive in nature and Airmen should not tag
uploaded photos with their locations, General Weida said.

"When taking photos, Airmen should be aware of the surrounding area,
understanding that even objects in a photo can give away critical,
unclassified information such as the location, type of personnel or type of
weapons being used during the mission," General Weida explained. "Publishing
photos of mission locations can be detrimental to mission success."

The general added that Airmen often take smartphones or MP3 players to
deployed locations, possibly enabling adversaries to develop a composite of
uploaded images and information through the spectrum of commercial programs

"Exposing Airmen and unit locations gives the adversary an advantage that
could impact the entire mission," General Weida said.

The general lauded the Army for its comprehensive product concerning
geotagging that will also help educate the Air Force.

"It is well worth reading by Airmen at every level," General Weida said.

For more information, see the top 10 tips for social media on page 17 of the
"Social Media and the Air Force" handbook available at

(Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle contributed to this story)