MONEY the photo bank

The Secret Data Hidden in Your Snapshots

Just by uploading pictures from your camera to the web, you might have left a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone to follow.

You’ll often see this maxim posted in national parks: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” But what if your photograph IS your footprint, and it can be tracked by anyone who might follow it?

German photographer Philipp Schmitt visualizes those digital footprints in his “Location-Based Light Painting Project.” In his small town near Stuttgart, he sets up a 35mm digital camera and, with long-exposure black-and-white images, “maps” each geotagged photo taken around the touristy Heilig-Kreuz-Münster city center.

How does he do it? Fluent not only in English and German but in numerous coding languages, Schmitt created an iPhone-based app that pinpoints his location using Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, then scours the web to cross-reference those bearings with any “geotagged” photographs taken there. (Such photos have GPS information embedded in image file or were later attached to a map, like these examples from Google Panoramio and Flickr.) When his physical path intersects with the geolocations of those images, his smartphone emits a sound. The sound, in turn, triggers a strobe light attached to the phone. Schmitt stalks his predecessors around the scene, effectively “painting” the area with the tiny lights, while a camera on a tripod records his movements. In the end, he geotags the resulting photos—which are themselves aggregations of geotagged photos—so that, as he explains, “they add to the mass of noise they’re documenting.”

The first series of photographs Schmitt made during the project are nighttime cityscapes; a glowing orb marks each of the original photographers’ vantage points. The second series goes one step further, employing a long-exposure technique to show the “ghosts” of the photographers, using a second person as a stand-in.

Schmitt, a student in Interaction Design at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd in southern Germany, got the idea from watching out his home window as tourists photographed the town church fountain. He started wondering, “How many photos have been taken of that stupid fountain?” Schmitt explains:

The amount of existing photos is just extraordinary. According to Wikipedia, Google Panoramio alone archives more than 65,000,000 geotagged images. Popular landmarks are so thoroughly documented by photographers that PhotoSynth can create 3D models of these places just using pictures.

This is all well and good when you want your location to be known, when you are aware that—via the particular camera or smartphone you use—your GPS coordinates are being logged, mapped, and disseminated globally. What if you aren’t aware? Schmitt’s strobes also cast light on a darker issue: online privacy. How much information should you share and when, in an age when oversharing on social media can result in a lost job when recruiters search your profile prior to your interview, when sites like Facebook track the clicks of your digital footprint and share them with advertisers, when Tinder users are scouring your photos for personal details, and when geotagged images in a Craigslist post can reveal the layout and location of your home and all of your personal possessions. (MONEY details the repercussions of your personal data falling into the wrong hands as it relates to recent data breaches and what you should do about it here.)

Right now, it’s just a photographer or two who may be peering in your apartment windows like Arne Svenson as he “tests the limits of privacy,” stealing your Facebook photos like Paulo Cirio and the team of Jonathan Pirnay and Jörn Röder, or following in your geotagged footsteps (almost in real time, if he so chooses) like Philipp Schmitt. Still, that’s just one small leap away from electronic billboards targeting you public spaces based on personal or geotagged data; Schmitt has already open-sourced parts of the code “to encourage people to do their own location-based light paintings.” Feel free to download it here, then geotag your images and add to the noise.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com:sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

More from The Photo Bank:
FREE MONEY! (If You _ _ _ _ It)
Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later
When the DynaTAC Brick Phone Was Must-Have Technology

 

TIME Smartphones

Americans Spend Nearly 2 Days a Month Using Mobile Apps

How Much Time Americans Spend on Phones
Carlina Teteris—Getty Images/Flickr RF

That's a whole lotta Candy Crush

U.S. adults spend nearly two days per month using apps or web browsers on their phones, according to Nielsen research.

Americans age 18 and up spent an average of 43 hours and 31 minutes per month using apps or web browsers on their phones during the second quarter of 2014, a sharp rise from the 33 hours and 48 minutes per month during the same period last year, according to Nielsen’s second-quarter 2014 Cross-Platform report.

Yet for how much time Americans spend on their phones, they’re using a surprisingly low number of apps. Mobile phone users have installed on average about 42 apps, but the vast majority of them say they’re using fewer than 10 apps on a daily basis, according to Nielsen’s Mobile Apps Playbook. About half claim they’re using only one to four apps on a daily basis.

So what are those apps? According to comScore, the most popular apps in the U.S. in June 2014 were Facebook, YouTube, Google Play, Google Search and Google Maps.

TIME Earnings

This Is the Single Craziest Number in Facebook’s Earnings Report

Facebook Inc. Opens New Data Center In The Arctic Circle
A Facebook Inc. "Like" logo sits on display at the company's new data storage center near the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden, on June 12, 2013. Bloomberg—Getty Images

There are a whole lot of Facebook addicts out there

Facebook put up a lot of impressive numbers in its third quarter earnings report Tuesday: 1.35 billion monthly active users, $3.2 billion in revenue, $800 million in profit. But the number that may be most surprising is one that rarely gets harped on in the media: 864 million daily active users.

This figure is the true metric driving the company’s runaway growth. To make money, Facebook needs to serve you ads—lots of ads—as you peruse its site. Obviously these daily users are soaking up a lot more ads than people who just check in once a month. Perhaps more importantly, the figure shows that Facebook is able to maintain its hold on users’ attention even as it stuffs more features (like auto-playing videos) and ads onto its site. In fact, the percentage of daily active users in the quarter, out of the total number of monthly active users, was 63%, up from about 59% in the previous quarter.

This impressive retention rate helps explain why Facebook has said it will take on additional expenses in the future to expand staff and pursue more acquisitions—the company believes it knows what is users want, and it seemingly has the stats to back up the claim.

TIME Companies

Facebook Creams Expectations While Twitter’s User Growth Stumbles

SWEDEN-FACEBOOK-DATA-CENTER-SERVERS
This picture taken with a fisheye lens shows a man walks past a big logo created from pictures of Facebook users worldwide in the company's Data Center, its first outside the US on November 7, 2013 in Lulea, in Swedish Lapland. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND—AFP/Getty Images

The social media titans are having very different weeks

Another quarter, another chance for Facebook to easily beat Wall Street’s expectations. The world’s largest social network now has 1.35 billion monthly active users, and it generated $3.2 billion in revenue and more than $800 million in profit from them in the third quarter. Facebook’s woes trying adapt its business to mobile now seem like a distant memory, as mobile now makes up two-thirds of the company’s ad revenue. (Despite this success, Facebook’s stock is down more than 10% in after-hours trading after the company said it expects expenses for the year to outpace initial forecasts, though it remains to be seen how the stock will behave after investors have had a night to process the news.)

Twitter, Facebook’s most direct competitor, is having a very different week. The company’s stock plunged 10% after it released its quarterly earnings report Monday, not because of the company’s paltry profits—investors don’t expect the social network to make much money in the near term—but rather because Twitter increasingly looks like it won’t be able to approach anything near Facebook’s scale. Twitter added 13 million monthly active users during the quarter, for a total of 284 million. Facebook added about 30 million, and it will probably continue to increase the gap for the foreseeable future.

There are several reasons Twitter’s user and financial growth is trailing Facebook’s. For one, Facebook’s users are much, much more engaged with their social network than Twitter’s. Less than half of Twitter’s users visit the site daily in its top 20 markets, compared to 63% for Facebook globally. The number of timeline views each Twitter user sees also decreased during the quarter, both year-over-year and compared to the second quarter. Twitter just has not proven itself to be a necessity in its users’ lives to the same extent Facebook has.

As a business, Twitter also lacks Facebook’s monetization opportunities. Twitter ads mostly hew to the typical 140-character format, though some have images. Facebook, meanwhile, successfully managed to make auto-playing video a staple in users’ News Feeds this year and is slowly experimenting with using the format for ads, which are sure to command a high price. More broadly, Facebook says its ads can be highly targeted because its users disclose their true identities and countless data points about their lifestyles and preferences. Twitter’s view of its mostly anonymous users is relatively opaque by comparison.

But perhaps the biggest thing separating the two companies is the way they’re run. Facebook will gleefully shove any changes down users’ throats and force them to adapt. The initial introduction (and constant revamping) of the News Feed, the ratcheting down of the organic reach of Page posts and the ongoing tweaks to its privacy policy are good examples. If any of these moves have bred resentment toward the company (Facebook has previously found a spot on lists of the most hated companies in America), it has not hurt business or even broad user engagement.

Twitter, meanwhile, has seen relatively few changes to its core interface since it launched. Sure, Twitter.com got a much-needed overhaul in 2011 and earlier this year profile pages were retooled to resemble Facebook’s Timeline pages, but the core Twitter experience has basically remained untouched. It’s a barrage of super-short messages presented in chronological order, sometimes organized by a set of commands so obtuse they require a glossary — though Twitter is experimenting with showing users tweets from accounts they don’t necessarily follow.

That simply may not be enough to entice the average Internet user. CEO Dick Costolo said Monday that the social network must increase “its overall pace of execution” in introducing new features that make the site more understandable to laymen. But unless they’re willing to rethink the service from the ground up, it’s not clear any amount of tinkering will allow Twitter to achieve his stated goal: building the “largest daily audience in the world.”

TIME Parenting

Unplug! Your Children’s Future Depends On It

Boy next to adults with smart phones
Getty Images

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

Our First World reliance on devices means kids aren't experiencing the day-to-day challenge of merely being conscious

My 21-year-old daughter was just home for the weekend, which was wonderful for all the obvious reasons. But her visit reminded me–as if I needed reminding–that I am so out-of-touch with the zeitgeist that I may as well be a preserved relic from Victorian times. By nature I’m so deeply Victorian that not only is my favorite architectural style all turrets and wraparound porches, but my distaste for what most people call “progress” could rival conservative British politician Benjamin Disraeili’s. And though I work on a computer–I’m not, after all, a masochist–and rely on both email and Google, the rest of it leaves me, at best, bored, and at worst, positively alarmed.

I couldn’t care less about and, in fact, don’t actually know what the following terms refer to: apps, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. And I have to admit that I had to Google most of these (see above). I don’t text, and I certainly don’t sext. Sexting for me is standing naked in front of my husband and saying, “Do you think it’s time for a tummy tuck?” I read the kind of books that you have to lug around with you and stack on your nightstand. I never got rid of my records (music recorded on vinyl), and I don’t own an iPod because when I’m walking the dogs or working in the garden, I prefer to listen to the sound of the falling leaves than Lorde singing “Royals” or Usher singing “She Came to Give It To You,” or God forbid anything, ever, by the talent-free Lady Gaga (had to Google this stuff, too, under “most popular singers 2014″). I don’t know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino and a Frappuccino and a frappé. I know what you’re saying: “Oh, Jennifer, you think you’re just so superior, don’t you? You think you’re just so retro-pure-intellectual dog-walking all-natural undyed-gray-haired awesome?”

Yes. Or at least a little bit. Because I’m in my fifties and have read a lot of books, I know without having to do a scientific study that all this reliance on our techno-toys is bad news–for grownups, for children, even for dogs, who would rather canoodle with their human-friend than be stuck on the sidelines. As for small children, don’t even get me started, because if I see one more mommy/daddy pushing her/his child in the stroller while being plugged into her/his iPod or cell phone, I’m going to puke. That doesn’t compare to the armies of small children who spend vast amounts of their free time pushing various buttons on their various electronic devices. And I know, boy do I know, children, when bored, are unpleasant to be around. They whine. They make you wish you’d never had them. I myself had whiny children, and was once one myself. I was such a whiny whiner that I turned whining into high art. And in part because I tended to depression and anxiety, I loved nothing more than TV, which took me away from myself, at least for as long as the tube was still on. I could sit in front of the TV for hours, numbing out on all the greats: The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, My Favorite Martian. But my mother, having been raised at a time when parents said no often and without guilt, wouldn’t let me do that, except when I was sick. Instead, when I whined or complained of boredom, she said that I had two choices: I could go outside and play or I could read. End of story, full stop.

The thing that’s just so awful and sad and terrible and stupid-making about our entire First World reliance on and love of our devices isn’t just that kids with totally straightforward neurology become, by default, unable to concentrate or take in information or synthesize or analyze or so much as string a few coherent sentences together, but that their very souls, and ours, get sucked straight out of our bodies and dispersed among the pixels and bottom-lines of the smart people who are making money by providing us with the addictive technology that we can’t get enough of. (As good a definition of addiction of any is: enough is never enough—just ask an alcoholic.) And why do we reach for our devices? For our Facebook feeds and mobile apps and appallingly loud and vulgar music and endless varieties of crappy TV shows? Because it’s easier to numb out than to face our fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams, impulses, devils, demons, defeats, pasts, futures, and, most of all, present, our here-and-now when things might not completely conform to the Hollywood version of what our lives are supposed to be.

Yes, folks, being human is difficult, at worst awful, at best wonderful, and most of the time, mixed. Remember, for example, the Bible? Whether you believe in its sanctity or not, the Bible is a remarkable document not for its account of wonders and miracles but rather its telling of the day-to-day challenge of merely being conscious, merely being human in a vast and unknowable universe where a fellow still has to get up every morning and bring home the curds-and-whey, water the camels and raise quarrelsome children.

Speaking of Jacob and Essau, do you want to raise grounded, reasonable, civilized children without getting a PhD? Here’s how: turn off the TV. Don’t let your children have their own devices of any kind whatsoever until high school. Make them go to bed at a reasonable hour. Don’t help them with their homework. Never hit or shame them, but go ahead and punish them when their behavior is bad. Don’t for one moment try to be their friend. And when they’re little, don’t even think about “the family bed,” unless you want to both kill your marriage and raise terrifying little monsters who will never manage to mature past adolescence. Finally, when they’re bored, give them a choice between playing outside and reading a book. In between, throw them a couple of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and an apple or two.

Yes, that’s it.

Ever since our second date, my husband has accused me of being a flat-worlder, a Luddite, an all-around fuddy-duddy. But I’m not. Not even a little. I just know, from my own lifelong experience of living inside my own messy head, that the more I use my machines to escape myself, the more my true self shrivels up and dies a slow and unremarkable death.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Companies

Twitter Stock Tumbles After Drop in User Engagement

Timeline views per user, a key measure of user engagement, dropped 7%

Twitter reported a drop in user engagement and projected lower-than-expected revenue, sending its stock price plummeting as much as 12% in after-hours trading.

The social-media company said Monday that timeline views per user dropped 7%, even as total users climbed a healthy 23% to 284 million. And while revenue in the third quarter doubled to $361 million in the third quarter, Twitter’s projected sales of $440 million to 450 million for the next three months fell short of investor expectations, according to Reuters.

The company, which went public last November, said its third-quarter loss grew to $175.5 million from $64.6 million in the same quarter last year.

“I’m confident in our ability to build the largest daily audience in the world, over time, by strengthening the core, reducing barriers to consumption and building new apps and services,” CEO Dick Costolo said in a statement.

TIME Internet

Facebook Is Going to Be a Lot Smarter Now That Stephen Hawking Has Joined

Professor Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA, at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge..Photograph © Jason Bye.t:  07966 173 930.e: mail@jasonbye.com.w: http://www.jasonbye.com.
Stephen Hawking outside DAMTP, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Cambridge. Jason Bye / PBS

He will share his musings about the universe and existence

Today is a big day for social media. First, Queen Elizabeth II sent her first tweet, and now Stephen Hawking has posted his first Facebook message. Though the world-renowned theoretical physicist officially joined the site on Oct. 7, he didn’t share anything until today:

Hawking’s plunge into the infinite social media abyss is certainly well-timed. The Theory of Everything, the film about the scientist’s personal and professional life, comes out in just a few weeks.

Something tells us Hawking’s FB game will be pretty strong. While everybody else offers updates about what they ate for breakfast, Hawking will give us brilliant musings about the magnificence of the universe or whatever.

Read next: Queen Elizabeth II Sends Her First Tweet

TIME royals

Queen Elizabeth II Sends Her First Tweet

Britain’s monarch dabbled in social media on Friday by sending her very first tweet.

While opening the Information Age exhibit at London’s Science Museum, the Queen, referring to herself as Elizabeth R., tapped out her first tweet from the official Twitter account of Buckingham Palace.

A statement from the museum said director Ian Blatchford had invited Queen Elizabeth to mark the occasion on social media. “I mentioned earlier that Queen Victoria took a great interest in the invention of the telephone, and Your Majesty has followed in this tradition of embracing new technology,” he told her. “You made the first live Christmas broadcast in 1957 and an event relished by historians took place on [March 26, 1976], when you became the first monarch to send an email, during a visit to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment. May I now invite you to join me so that you may send your first tweet.”

The tweet’s author was then verified by the @BritishMonarchy account with a follow-up tweet and a photo of the Queen sending the message.

Read next: See Kate Middleton’s Stunning Fashion Evolution

TIME psychology

The Problem Isn’t Over-Sharing. It’s Over-Following

Facebook's Influence In Consumer Consumption Of News Growing
The Facebook website is displayed on a laptop computer on May 9, 2011 in San Anselmo, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University.

For better or worse, we're too willing to listen

As social media has mutated into a ravenous, many tentacled time-eater, news from our friends about their families’ triumphs and trials has become omnipresent, unrelenting—a never-ending vacation slide show from hell. As a result, every day there’s a new complaint from those who follow: too much self-promotion in my feed. Too many photos of other people’s posh vacations. Too many selfies! No one wants to see what you had for lunch/what your baby had for lunch/how cute your cats are. And yet the posts keep coming.

“For the love of God, stop posting 9,000 pictures of your baby on Facebook,” pleads an author on Chicago Now. “You know the type I’m talking about. That mom who genuinely thinks her baby is cuter than all the others. Yo, jackass, we all think our own kid is the cutest.” Indeed, social media and babies are a particularly dangerous combination. A 2010 study by the Internet security firm AVG Technologies found that 92% of American children under the age of two have some kind of digital profile, with images of them posted online. But posts chronicling the every adorable move of our friends’ babies and kids certainly aren’t the whole of the online offensiveness: Elite Daily lists the 50 most annoying people you encounter on Instagram, including the Internet Model, the Fashionista and the Rich Kid—and I can certainly list a few more—while others offer endless advice on how to politely ask your connections to be less boastful, less prolific and less, well, annoying.

Part of the problem is that social media just makes sharing—oversharing—way too easy. A click of the button on a digital camera, a quick download, and the picture or video clip is flying to your Facebook feed. But there are also plenty of studies supporting the addictive nature of social media, and how obsessive posting works directly on the pleasure centers of the brain.

And yet the real problem here is not that we’re an addiction-addled culture of oversharers, though that may indeed be true. Instead, it’s that we’re a culture of complainers. We use complaints as icebreakers or to bond with others: What’s with this weather? What’s with our boss? We use complaints to establish rapport. Studies have suggested that complaining adds years to your life by helping us release tension. But we also complain because it’s in our nature, and we’re more apt to complain than to do something about it. Complaining about the social media habits makes this ever more clear, and has become a favorite topic of conversation: Who’s most annoying in your feed? Because of course, the solution to dealing with the oversharers clogging our feed is painfully obvious: Unfollow them. Stop engaging. Delete.

But can we? Or have the followers become as obsessed and addicted as the oversharers, the ones who do it for the “Likes”? We tend to issue blame on the people who post, but we’re hooked, too. Obsessive posting, after all, is a result of obsessive following—if there were no audience at the ready, there would be no need or reason to post. Consider as an example the end of relationships that take place over social media, from that of your college friends to that of representative Mark Sanford, who ended his engagement to María Belén Chapur via public Facebook post. We’re not talking about the change in Relationship Status from “Married” to something else, but long, drawn out, intimate details that we’re shocked and horrified to read—and yet read we do. Just last weekend, I followed along as two old friends ended their long-term relationship by posting all the last details of each other’s transgressions. I knew that this was not information I wanted to have. And yet I read it. All of it.

This, of course, is what keeps people overposting. It’s not their inherent flaw, or simply their desire to be heard. It’s our willingness to listen. The only way people will stop oversharing, or badly sharing, is to refuse to be their audience. That’s not something we’re willing to do. So instead we complain, and pretend to wonder what it is we can do about all these selfies filling our feeds. But if you really want your friends, colleagues and the strangers who appear in your feed to stop being so obnoxious, inappropriate and self-promotional, you know what to do. It’s as simple as hitting Unfollow.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Social Media

Facebook Launches Anonymous Chat App Called ‘Rooms’

Rooms Facebook

The app allows people to form invite-only chat rooms based on common interests

Facebook launched Thursday an anonymous chat room app called Rooms, the latest creation to emerge from the company’s initiative to design more apps connecting people in different ways.

The free app, now available in the App Store, allows users to create chat rooms for shared interests, from makeup mastery to city gardens, according to the app’s website. The app is entirely separate from Facebook and doesn’t require you to provide any revealing details like your name or your location.

Chat rooms are invite-only and require a special code that can be scanned with your phone’s camera, according to Facebook. Codes can be shared on social media, e-mail or even posted on paper in public spaces. Chat room creators or other specified moderators can customize the look, ban people from the room or set the room to be 18+.

Rooms’ development was first reported by the New York Times in early October as an alternative way to connect online aside from the many social media networks, like Facebook, which value or require authentic identities as a means of combating spammers, trolls and cyberbullies. However, Facebook’s real name policy has forced out some users, notably members of the LGBT community who prefer to stay anonymous online. A recent flight of transgender users from Facebook to alternative networks like Ello drew headlines several weeks ago.

Rooms joins a host of other secondary apps recently created by Facebook, including Mentions, a Facebook for celebrities and other public figures released in July; Slingshot, a Snapchat-like service released in June; and Paper, a Facebook app simplified for a mobile device released in February.

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