You know is a Fake Mcdonalds Pic
June 13, 2011 1 Comment
You have all watched the scene in countless crime dramas where our heroes look at an emailed picture of the kidnap victim and say something like “that the bush outside is a ‘bigusbloodyobviousplotdevicium’ that only grows in three places in the States, two of which are in Alaska and the third is …” No attempt to say that “the sun was at 27 degrees and the shadows prove it had to be taken at 34°11′19″N 118°8′5″W” will convince you that the FBI didn’t know our victim is in Altadena, California, as this is close to production company’s studio and the other two places only exist in screen-writers heads. But what I really marvel at it not the lengths our heroes went to in order to establish the location, using vast database lookups for the angle of the sun and botanical identification, but why on earth they didn’t just look at the metadata on the picture in the first place.
“Huh?” I hear you say. Well, let me explain. Early photographers used to scratch the place and time on their negatives, but with the advent of digital cameras, this has become automatic with a few lines of code in the image that gives the date, time, camera, exposure and other information about the photograph. Add in the fact that newer cameras and smart-phones add in location details and the exact serial number of the device used, there should never be any doubt over where our victim is being held, but this simple lookup will obviously make the 44 minute show last only 12 minutes and then there would be less time for the sponsors to try and sell you the new wonder cure for the latest made up disease that only affects America. And don’t try to say this is too new: JEIDA published Version 2.1 of the relevant standard the 1990s and this has been universally adopted by camera manufacturers. The International Press and Telecommunications Council also first defined a standard for media files in 1979.
The reason I mention this is again McDonalds are on the back foot trying to quash a rather silly and obvious slander – and it’s not even Wednesday yet. A photograph of a sign on a supposed McDonald’s restaurant door claims that (paraphrased) “they charge an extra $1.50 to Americans of obviously African decent due to associated crime”. This fake picture first appeared a few years ago, yet during this week, over the space of a couple of days the image was sent all over the world to the associated hue and cry with the obvious reference to racism. It wouldn’t take a genius to establish that this photo was faked and they could probably establish not only when, but where and by whom the photograph was taken. No? Let’s debate that.
My mother used to write the names of the people on the back of photographs, that’s why I knew that Jane was the daughter of Mrs Carter and that the butcher was involved somehow, for my mother had put a big question mark and wrote the butcher’s name in brackets after Jane Carter. Underneath she had written “Church Picnic”, the time and date, the location and that the photo had been taken on Nancy’s camera and not her own (my mother had far too much time on her hands). As I said, this information is now included automatically in photographs and facial tagging systems can now add names to pictures published electronically. Another relevant fact that at least two companies are currently compiling databases of the metadata on all the images published on photo-sharing sites like Photo Bucket and Flicker, right down to the actual serial number of the camera, claiming it’s a service to allow users to identify their stolen cameras.
Pretty soon you could join the dots. The next time there is a photograph of a half naked Senator flexing his muscles in a gym, a quick subpoena of the records would no doubt be able to show that either yes, it was taken by a camera belonging to Candy Melons of the Ladies of Professional Virtue Agency during the 43rd House sitting on the Preservation of Dried Grass Cuttings, World Warfare and Medicare Bill, OR, more than likely, it was taken seven years ago with Chuck’s camera phone late on a Friday night in order to have a joke with the guys as to how the Senator wasn’t working hard enough to develop his six-pack and look how puny he is. But we all know that the former is more salacious and as they say, never let the facts get in the way of a good story, especially if it’s a politician or a successful international company involved.
But can you imagine what will happen to the data collected by these companies? Let’s assume that either of the companies involved signs a contract with one of the photo-sharing sites. How soon will it be before as a service to its customers, the site automatically publishes the properties of the photographs? Then, when you shared the pictures of you with the ‘Happy Cows in California’ with your friends, they will know that really it was taken three miles from your house on one of those rare sunny days in Wisconsin and you never went on a trip. Or the photograph on your Facebook page of your date was a stock picture downloaded in order to impress your friends. And the whole issue of who the photographer was or where it was taken would dissipate because everyone will know that the picture was taken with Chuck’s camera in the foyer of some small town hotel and not in Monte Carlo as claimed.
Something however makes me doubt that. Because what will happen is that the various start-up companies who collect and store this data will become take-over targets and the information will be sold. The next time you log into one of the photo-sharing sites and upload an image, you will get loads of emails from camera stores saying “we notice that your Yakihama 1.3mp camera is now so last year and how about the new super 300mp model from CanCasio.” Or worse, you get raided in the middle of the night by the FBI-CIA-DHS demanding to know why the image of the Senator in bed with the donkey that you sold to the GOP was taken by you in one of the White House bedrooms and exactly how did you get there?
However, if the use of this data can put an end to the endless fake photographs of non-celebrities and silly made up stories of big business, then we should be grateful. It’s a small price to pay for the end of some of the more blatant lies that circle the globe and the question will not be why is there a photograph of X in Y with Z because we will all be able to tell that X was in A and the picture was taken by Z’s Public Relations manager. And I’m off to buy an Exif information remover before the world discovers that my camera is not just last year, but last century.