Get and Remove EXIF Data from Photos

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If you've ever worked for an agency or a small web shop, I'd be willing to bet you've coded a fair amount of photo galleries.  You've probably also uploaded photos to social media, sent photos to friends and family, and so on.  Photos seem fairly innocent but, as is the case with just about everything on the web, there's a slightly sinister side to images on the web -- a privacy, even security issue with EXIF data.

EXIF data is metadata added to an image file by the device taking the photo and trust me -- there's quite a bit of data that goes along with it.  Sure, most of the metadata is innocent but many devices add GPS latitude and longitude to the EXIF metadata, as well as date the photo was taken, providing a savvy person a way to find out where a photo was taken and when.  The idea that someone could learn where your family loves to go out for dinner or do any other activity based on a photo is unsettling to say the least.  As developers who may handle and publish your client's photos, we have a responsibility to those clients to make sure sensitive EXIF data is wiped clean before published for the world to see.

Let's take a look at how you can retrieve and then remove EXIF data from photos using exiftool.

Installing exiftool

You can install exiftool using a utility like Homebrew:

$ brew install exiftool

You can also get the utility or contribute to it on the exiftool website.

Get EXIF Metadata

The default action of exiftool is simply returning an image's EXIF data:

$ exiftool my-image.jpg

You'll see a listing of metadata like:

File Size                       : 1723 kB
File Modification Date/Time     : 2017:01:10 15:22:50-05:00
File Access Date/Time           : 2017:01:10 15:22:49-05:00
File Inode Change Date/Time     : 2017:01:10 15:22:50-05:00
File Permissions                : rw-r--r--
File Type                       : JPEG
File Type Extension             : jpg
MIME Type                       : image/jpeg
Exif Byte Order                 : Big-endian (Motorola, MM)
Make                            : Apple
Camera Model Name               : iPhone 6
Orientation                     : Horizontal (normal)
X Resolution                    : 72
Y Resolution                    : 72

# .... and much more

It's frightening how much information can be stored in a photo without most of the population having a clue about it.  Most people see a nice photo but a villain sees an opportunity to learn more about you than you'd like them to know.

Removing EXIF Metadata

To protect yourself or your client, you can use exiftool to remove specific EXIF metadata:

$ exiftool -gps:all= -xmp-exif:all= my-image.jpg

exiftool will make a copy of your original file and then strip the GPS data out of the original image, thus preserving your or client privacy.

To remove all EXIF metadata, use the following:

exiftool -all= my-image.jpg

Most server side languages feature a library for reading, modifying, and removing EXIF metadata from photos, so there's no excuse for you not to take advantage of them to protect yourself or your clients.  Realize that most social media sites also remove this data to protect their users (...meanwhile exploiting them in other ways, but that's beside the point...).  EXIF metadata isn't inherently bad but, if you don't protect photos, can become a privacy nightmare!

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Discussion

  1. Thanks for this great tip. Is there a way to run the command to remove all EXIF data AND the original files? I just don’t want to keep the original files when I don’t need to.

    • You could make it a second step, like rm ORIGINAL_FILE.jpg

  2. MaxArt

    ExifTool is also for Windows via Chocolatey (choco install exiftool) and Linux ( apt-get install libimage-exiftool-perl or yum update perl-Image-ExifTool).

  3. You can also remove EXIF data with ImageMagick

    mogrify -strip image.jpg

Wrap your code in <pre class="{language}"></pre> tags, link to a GitHub gist, JSFiddle fiddle, or CodePen pen to embed!