Staying safe online - for cyclists - 3 tips

The web is not full of bike thieves watching your every move online. The majority of thieves are opportunistic and are more at home on the streets, than monitoring social networks and websites for their next victim. However, it’s very wise to be careful as there have been examples of bike owners being targeted based on the information they have shared online – especially with mid to high-end bikes. If your bike is worth £5000+ then the reward for the thieves is clearly high and potentially worth the research time.

A few online areas to be careful around…

Geotagging

Photos hold EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) data. This is a list of information you see when you look at the ‘properties’ of the image file – covering such aspects as the camera model and ISO speed. But they can also show the longitude and latitude of where the image was taken – if the GPS functionality exists (+ switched on) on the specific smartphone or camera used. This might be useful information if you go on an epic holiday and can’t remember the exact location of where each photo was taken. But, if the photo is of your prized bike at home, it might be best not to post it online (or strip out that Geotag information before you do).

It has been documented that some social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, automatically strip out this EXIF data to protect privacy. But many sites, especially photo sharing and forums, do not.

So how do you remove this Geotagging information?

  • iOS
    – To turn off – navigate to settings > privacy > location services > camera > never
    – For existing metadata, there are apps available from the app store that can do this task
  •  MAC
    – Preview the specific image > tools > show inspector > select the “i” icon > GPS > remove location info
  • Android
    – To turn off – this depends on the model/brand > look under settings > disable location or Geotag
    – For existing metadata, there are apps available from Google Play that can do this task
  •  Windows
    – Right click on the image file > properties > details > see GPS details > remove properties

Ride tracking and sharing apps

As mentioned on our blog post about Strava privacy settings, it’s best to be careful around protecting your home location and to be wary about posting your bike and kit information on these ride tracking apps/networks.

Whichever ride tracking app you use, be sure to check what information you are making public by default and also what you can change. The settings should be in a privacy section within your account. Pay attention to the following:

    1. Can Google index your profile? (i.e., when you search your name on Google, or bike details, does your profile come up?)
    2. Does the app automatically remove EXIF data for uploaded images?
    3. Can you hide your home location?
    4. Can someone track you in real time?
    5. Can you make your activity private or to only your followers?
    6. Sharing your ride to an open social profile (Facebook for example – also look at individual post privacy, as well as profile)

If you have a predictable cycling routine, with your ride/home/office location visible and your high value bike details/photo then it’s very simple for a professional bike thief to build up intelligence about you.

Social media

If you have open (publically viewable) social media accounts, then they can provide a huge insight into your life for prying eyes. You don’t have to be a trained government agent to join the dots online. Photos and ‘statuses’ can show where you live, where you work, when you are away on holiday and what possessions – such as bikes – you own and where you store them.

We all love ‘likes’ on social media and the more the better. It feels good. But, if you think about it, does your life really benefit from ‘likes’ from strangers? Probably not, unless you have 5 million account followers and get paid to post.The simplest solution is to keep your account private and your friend list cut down to people you actually see and trust. But, if you want to keep your profile public then consider the following:

  1. Avoid posting holiday photos when you are still on holiday (also remember that insurance companies expect ‘reasonable care’ – just like locking your front door)
  2. Don’t give away your home location through the photo, hashtag or location (the ‘add location’ feature when you post on Instagram)
  3. Be wary of posting images of your bike (with brand and component details), especially a photo that includes where the bike is stored (such as the bike propped up against your shed in your garden)
  4. Don’t give away your office/work location if you cycle to work with a photo of your bike locked up on the street outside. If you do, then a thief is likely to guess that it will be in that same location most days.

As we mentioned at the start of this article, online searching of real-world data by bike thieves to pick out potential victims is not widespread, but it does happen. So it’s best to be aware and to take precautions.

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