Reddit claims it deletes EXIF data from photos uploaded to its site, but do they really?
With so many social media privacy scandals in the past few years, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t accidentally disclosing my personal home location when uploading photos.
So rather than taking the company’s word for it, I decided to run a test myself to ensure that I wasn’t accidentally sharing private data with strangers when uploading online.
What is EXIF data?
For those unfamiliar, every time you take a picture on your phone, the resulting photo file has something called EXIF data attached to it.
This data keeps a record of the photo settings like exposure and F-stop, and also tracks the location where the photo was taken.
This can actually be a super convenient feature since you can then search for photos by location.
But it can also be scary because when you take a picture in your home and upload it online, it’s possible strangers could know your home location.
For an old but fun example: Check out how John McAfee was located when someone forgot to strip the EXIF data from a picture of him.
The Reddit claim – a forum response
When I did a Google search to try and uncover Reddit’s official position, the only thing I could find is an answer in a forum that looked like from a moderator, but I can’t tell the weight to assign to that.
My Reddit EXIF data test
Here’s a picture of a Yogi Bear statue that I took recently.
When you right-click and click “Get Info” about the file on my desktop, the following data appears, along with my name (I cut it off). More concerningly, it also contains the exact latitude and longitude where the photo was taken.
Now, in this case, I don’t really mind since this wasn’t taken at my home.
But if you ever take a selfie from bed and post it in the wrong place online, it could turn into a real privacy issue.
Uploading to Reddit
After uploading to Reddit, I navigated to the live post and inspected the source code behind the image.
From the code on the page, it was clear that the EXIF data had been stripped and there was no reference available to either my camera settings or the location of the photo.
Downloading and checking on desktop
Just to be completely sure, I downloaded the photo from the Reddit post back to my desktop and inspected it again there.
After doing so, I can confirm that no personal data was included in the download.
This all points to the fact that Reddit does remove EXIF data from photos when you upload them.
Use the Screenshot Hack to remove EXIF before sending
If you’re ever not sure what data your photo has attached, or if the service you’re uploading to strips EXIF data, here’s a quick method to put your mind at ease:
The screenshot hack is where you pull up your original photo on your phone, then take a screenshot of that photo, and send the screenshot instead of the original. The EXIF metadata will not be included, and you’ll still have the original file with the EXIF data for personal use so you can search your photos by location. Win, Win!
While it is now clear that Reddit does in fact strip the metadata from your photos upon upload, this doesn’t mean that every social media, text, or email platform does.
It’s always a good idea to stay informed of the terms of service of the platforms you use, and when in doubt, remove the EXIF data before uploading, especially if it was a photo taken near your home or another sensitive personal location.