Each month we take a look at tech news and developments as they relate to human rights video in our Tech News Digest. If you have a tip, please share in the comments section.
We are fixated on metadata here at WITNESS. For us, the contextual information that’s embedded in all of your media and can be appended to everything you share on social media holds great promise for making good citizen reporting easier to find, easier to verify, and easier to put to use. We’re excited about the InformaCam app for citizen journalists and human rights activists, and we’re excited about the possibility of platforms and devices adopting proof modes for bringing the utility of rich metadata to a wider audience. But we are also wary of how metadata can be used to surveil and the ways in which journalists, activists, and all users should take care to protect themselves and those around them.
In October we pulled together the most interesting metadata-focused stories. Despite its dry description, it turns out metadata makes for a pretty compelling topic. And while you’re reading, notice how these journalists manage to explain a technical issue like metadata in clear and ways.
- First up, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we learned that the anonymous social networking app Whisper is more accurately described as an “anonymous” social networking app. It was reported this month that the app is in fact tracking the geolocation metadata of its users, even those who have opted out of geolocation. Worse, The Guardian also revealed that Whisper is sharing information with the US Department of Defense and is considering a version of the app that would conform to Chinese censorship demands. Geolocation data is important; as The Guardian spells out well:
“Location information might not initially seem too revealing – but tracked over time it is enough to identify us easily, and also disclose almost everything about our lives: a place you’re located at multiple times at midnight is likely to be your home. Posting from a military base reveals a lot about your likely occupation. Being geolocated 2ft away from someone at 3pm (the worker at the next desk?) means something very different from 3am (an amorous liaison?).”
- Next, another group caught on to the power of metadata this week, though it’d be better if they were still in the dark: Daesh, aka ISIS. In a manual released this month and reported on by the Financial Times, the group counseled its members on how to avoid including metadata in their social media posts so as to avoid giving away their location, habits, and affiliations. They focused on media, as well: ““We know this issue is not only tied to pictures, but to PDF files, word files and video files.”
- And finally, a more fun application of metadata, spurred by a single panel from the popular webcomic xkcd. Flickr showed just how easy metadata can be read and analyzed by whipping up a tool that can guess whether your photo is from a national park; additionally, taking the xkcd observation on the difficulty of analyzing the content of images as a challenge, they also try to guess whether there’s a bird in the image, as well. The result is the straightforwardly named Park or Bird.
Featured image shows screenshots from the InformaCam app.