Smartphone cameras need an Incognito Mode

Smartphone cameras need an Incognito Mode

Mobile By Russell Holly Sep. 5, 2014

The camera you use is the one you have on you. This simple fact, combined with internet connectivity makes the smartphone the ultimate camera for most people today. Camera tech — including cloud storage to hold all our photos — has improved immensely over the last year to support our habit of near-constant picture taking. Unfortunately, as a couple of celebrities have recently discovered, there’s no such thing as a perfectly secure place to store photos online. Instead of trying to solve the online privacy problem by looking at the destination, it seems to me that looking at the source would make a lot more sense.

When you use a smartphone to take a photo, there’s a ton of information attached to it. Most importantly, smartphones add your location and the name of your device – but that’s just the start. A lot of this information can be opted out of or turned off, but you’d need a tool that alters the EXIF data on your photo in order to remove everything. There are some web services that make this easy, but it’s still a process.

All of this is before you consider the contents of your photos. While recent apps — most prominently Snapchat – have highlighted a desire to secure risqué photos and keep them from being seen by anyone but you, there are plenty of other scenarios where a more discrete camera mode would be useful. If your phone is used for work, and you need some work photos to stay private unless being shared with others on a project, being able to save those photos to an encrypted folder and automatically flag them to never be synced to cloud storage could be quite useful. Or maybe you are just a private person and don’t want a lot of extra data attached to photos of your children. Any way you look at it, there are good reasons to want a filter in between your camera and the rest of your apps.


How exactly would something like this work? It seems likely that the best answer would be a private mode on the camera app itself would be a great way to go. Just like any other setting in the camera, this button could remove your EXIF data and save any photos taken to a secure folder. From that folder, if you chose to share a photo you would need to enter a password to confirm it was you trying to do the sharing. Alternatively, this folder could be setup to only allow files to be accessed via USB or through a list of approved apps. The files themselves would have as little embedded data as possible, and would not even be visible from the photo gallery or camera roll if you didn’t have the password.

There’s no such thing as a 100% secure solution for problems like this, but it’s time smartphone cameras started taking advantage of the smartphones they are connected to and actually started being smarter. Privacy mode on a smartphone camera seems like something that could easily become a standard feature in the not-so-distant future, and it’s the kind of thing that would be easy enough to use that the feature wouldn’t even feel like a security measure.

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