Can other users view my Obscured and Private Coordinates

Who can access obscured and private coordinates?
I was always under the understanding that if I choose to obscure or make private the coordinates of my observations, that I alone can see the coordinates attached to that observation.
However, I recently bought a new mobile phone (Android) and downloaded the iNat app. I received a warning from my phone that my obscured and private coordinates can be accessed by others.
Is this the case? If so, I’m concerned that it’s possible that the coordinates that I chose to obscure on a rare orchid observation were accessed by someone, as the orchids disappeared a few days after posting my observation.
Can someone please confirm whether obscured and private coordinates can be accessed by others?

welcome to the forum

Under ‘baseline’ conditions, it is only you that can see the true coordinates of these records. There are ways that other users can see your obscured/private coordinates, however, all of these require your explicit approval/permission to do so.

  1. You can ‘trust’ another user via your settings (requires you to manually click a button)
  2. For certain projects that you join, you’ll be asked when you first join them whether you want to allow the admins of the project to access your hidden coordinates, with a few different options, including a ‘no’ option. Again, you have to manually approve this.

So unless you have explicitly given permission in one of these ways, no one else can see your true coordinates for obscured records

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Was the warning from Android itself or from the iNat app when you first started using it on the phone. Some devices do show warnings from their OS when sharing photos with location info in their metadata as a general security thing (which is fair).

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what exactly did the message say? was it a message from another user? or did it come from iNaturalist? or did it come from your country network?

in Australia, your observations that have been obscured due to taxon privacy (as opposed to you explicitly setting the geoprivacy) can have their true coordinates viewed by country officials. see https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/inaturalist-australia-vs-inaturalist/6909/15.

besides this, the situations where you have explicitly granted others permission to view your true coordinates, and situations where folks get access to your account or device (or are looking over your shoulder), the last time i checked, it still was possible in almost every case for anyone to discover the true locations of your obscured observations – although most people would not be able to do this in most cases. i won’t describe the situation in more detail, but if you have true locations that you need to be 100% protected, the only way to do that is to refrain from posting those observations in the first place.

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There are any number of explanations for this. Your posting may have nothing to do with it.

In any case, here’s a tip. If you choose to obscure an observation, obscure ALL observations from that day. That makes it more difficult to guess the location.

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Thanks very much for the replies. That sets my mind at ease. It must just be a coincidence.

The warning on my phone I can no longer find unfortunately, so I can’t answer the questions on its source. I think it was from the app from memory.

Anyway it sounds like no-one else can see my coordinates unless I give permission, which is a relief.

Thanks again everyone for your help.

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Here is an obscured orchid of mine for example
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/144368587

Click Details at Location for more.
I have chosen to make it visible to curators of 3 projects.
(And you prompted me to check who they are)

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Beautiful orchid!

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That’s one method. I have also separated out vulnerable observations such as orchids susceptible to poaching from the others from the same hike and either held them back or posted them ahead of the others so their upload date would be on another day from all the others.

On particularly sensitive stuff (e.g. ginseng), I will also “manually obscure” by placing the location marker on a road or parking lot nearby and using the accuracy circle feature to include the true location. So even if someone managed to hack their way past the obscuration built into the system, they still would have some searching to do to actually find the plant in the field.

Another thing to pay attention to is tags and observation fields. E.g. I often add a tag for the trail name to a batch of observations, or use the milepost tags for observations tied to a student research project. Such tags/fields can reveal details about the location so I will refrain from adding them to observations where I think that would be a problem.

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But the observation date would not. I recommend removing the time of day on the observation date, so that nobody can tell which were observed before or after which.

Yes, on really sensitive stuff, I remove all EXIF data from the pictures and enter the date manually for extra protection. However, iNat now also obscures the date along with the location so obscured observations are shown with month-only and don’t display dates any more. None of this is perfect protection but it makes it harder to guess the exact when and where something was observed.

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Thanks for the continuing discussion with more good advice on ways to further protect exact coordinates.
@annkatrinrose - Can you please explain how to remove exif data, as an iNat user once told me that he can access coordinates from photos.

I use the “save for web” option in Photoshop, which strips all the EXIF data. There probably are similar functions in other image processing programs.

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Not for obscured or private observations. Yes, for unobscured observations, if you go to the photo information page (click the circle-i info button on the photo on the observation page), you will find coordinates in the table of photo data (if the photo had them originally). But this is not shown on photos for obscured/private observations, except for those belonging to the logged-in user. Also, iNat strips the exif data from the photos themselves, and just shows them in the data table, so they will not be in photos downloaded from iNat (see discussion here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/option-to-hide-or-remove-photo-metadata/16329/2).

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Thanks Annkatrinrose.