Broadly speaking, geotagging is the attachment of a geographical reference to a digital product like a photo, website, QR code or SMS message. It serves various benefits and, without even knowing it, many applications you use and photos you take use geotagging.
By having GPS enabled on a phone, camera or other device, any kind of data can have location coordinates connected and saved to it. Typically, these coordinates are recorded as latitude and longitude, or decimal degrees.
Where is Geotagging Used?
The many benefits of geotagging have been realized, and today many products and industries make optimal use of geotagging. At least 82% of digital data today includes a geotag. Let’s go through some of the situations where you might expect to find geotagging used.
GeoTagging In Digital Media: Photos and Videos
Geotagging is probably the most well known in digital media, like photos and videos. Travellers can get snap-happy on holiday and then locate exactly where each photo was taken when reflecting on the trip. Google Photos will even plot your images for you on a map. There are also many travel journal apps that will create a neat little journal and map of your trip using geotagged photos and documents you input. These are effortless to create and can be easily published on a blog or social media.
Another helpful feature is the user-submitted Google Maps photos and spheres. If you’re looking for interesting sights nearby, you can open up Google Maps and see the sights in that area.
Geotagging Social Media
Social media is dominant in most people’s lives, and it’s become much more than just a way to stay connected with friends and family. Geotagging your location in a post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter, is commonplace and acts to show people where you are. However, social media can also be used much like a search engine.
More and more businesses and entrepreneurs are reaping the benefits of social media marketing. Many people will look for feedback or reviews on social media when making a decision to purchase a product or service. By adding a location tag to your business’ social media posts, you enable customers to find you better — both physically and in a search.
Geotagging is used in quite a few well-known games. Two great examples are geocaching, and Pokémon GO. Both use geotagging in slightly different ways. Geocaching is like a treasure hunt, where ‘cachers’ search using the coordinates of the cache’s treasure. Geocaching is reasonably low-tech in comparison to Pokémon GO, which is a type of augmented reality game.
In Pokémon GO, players download the game to their phone and participate using their phone’s GPS and camera. Different Pokémon characters are geotagged into locations in the world around you, and you must find them to catch ‘em all. The GPS signal from the phone is used to reference where the player is in relation to the Pokémon. Pokémon Go wasn’t the first augmented reality game, but it was, and is hugely popular.
Location Based Advertising and Market Analysis
Location based marketing is a type of targeted marketing which tends to be more successful than traditional tactics. When you do a search for ‘Cafe’ the search engine will pull up cafes in your vicinity. On the flip side, businesses can advertise their products or services within a restricted geographical area, so you’ll only see their advertising if you’re in that area.
Geotagging can also help marketers to analyze their customers and develop an optimal advertising strategy. They can identify where their target audience is most active, and what products or services are most actively searched for by location.
Geotagging SMS Messages
This may sound a little terrifying to some, but your mobile phone is easily trackable when in use. As mentioned above, this geolocation information can be used by businesses to target advertising, but it can also be used to broadcast important information.
Emergency services and governments around the world use SMS broadcasts to alert the public about important information. It could be an event, road closures, child abductions, inclement weather warnings, or even an evacuation order. Based on your location these messages will be sent to you specifically if you’re in the distribution area, and it’s a great way to quickly and efficiently disseminate information.
Location analytics on Websites
Websites can also have geotagged information built-in, often in the way of RSS feeds. RSS feeds are used to frequently update information on a webpage, like news websites, blogs, or podcasts.
When geotags are added to textual content in RSS feeds, blogs, or other websites, it gives this information a visual context as well. Because so much content these days is viewed from a mobile device, having location tags in your website helps with SEO. It means that your website is easier to index and select for people based on their current location (when using a mobile device), such ass through “near me” queries.
What Are the Risks of Geotagging?
It’s clear that geotagging is widely used nowadays, and not surprisingly, some risks have been raised in recent years. Almost all concerns are around safety and privacy, but also environmental and cultural damage, due to previously unvisited or sacred places becoming overly popular.
The main concern for a long time has been around safety, as geotagging gives another person the ability to track your physical location. This is a concern in terms of stalking and harassment, but also for potential robberies as it can be remotely determined if someone isn’t home, and perhaps on vacation for an extended period.
Home Break-in and Theft
In the UK, police found home burglaries were linked to the fitness app Strava. Thieves were able to identify when app users were out of the house for a run or ride, to then break in and rob them. (Note: You can avoid this risk by setting your activity to only be viewed by your followers). The same goes for when you depart on vacation. Thieves can follow your patterns and movements, knowing that you’ve left the house will take that opportunity to break-in.
Geotagging can give stalkers a vast amount of information about you. This includes your habits, who you associate with, where you live and even your current location. All opening you up to potential personal danger, discrimination or even blackmailing. This might make you have a good hard think before you post publicly about your routine gym session, or photos of your new house.
In a slight twist of fate, when travelers share the location of a beautiful location this can lead to the area increasing in popularity. It might seem like a good thing, but too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. This increase in popularity is now being labeled ‘overtourism’.
Those beautiful locations become swamped with tourists and social media ‘influencers‘, all trying to get the same shot and share that experience. This exact problem spurred the New Zealand tourism agency to publish a rather amusing TV commercial deterring people from posting photos ‘under the social influence’.
The reason for the push back against influencer-style tourism is because it often leads to the detriment to the natural environment. Physical damage and erosion of natural places, but also the rubbish left behind by careless people, is all too common.
How to Combat the Negative
If you’re concerned about the risks of geotagging and geolocation tracking, there are a few easy things you can do to keep you, your family, the community around you, and the environment safe. It’s simple — think before you tag a location.
Before tagging a location, consider the situation relevant to you, can this identify your current location, or where you’ll be for some time? Are you alone at that location? Are your geotags identifying your habits and routines? Also, consider the environment around you, are you in a pristine natural environment? Or a place of great cultural significance?
There are also other more hands-on things you can do like turning off location settings on your phone or digital camera. This will prevent installed apps from collecting your location data, and potentially selling that information about you to third parties.
Why is Geotagging Important?
As with all things there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. There have been many great developments that have come from the ability to geotag media, advertising, websites and other information. Likewise, there have been plenty of negatives as well. The risks surrounding geotagging might be causing it to lose some favor, but it does seem to be here to stay. So, why is geotagging so important?
Geotagging helps us to stay connected with friends and family through social media posts. Emergency services can distribute warning messages to select locations en-mass, and it helps marketers to target advertising where it’s best placed.
Quite simply, geotagging enables the efficient transfer of information which ultimately makes our lives easier, and more engaging.