A claim is flying across the Internet that asserts MH370 passenger Phillip Wood took a photo from his iPhone 5 from a military base called Diego Garcia, where he and the other passengers are being incarcerated.
The photo, (above) which is entirely black, was apparently uploaded to the Internet along with the following message –
The phones EXIF information (this is behind-the-scenes information about a photo) indicates it was taken in Diego Garcia with an iPhone 5. According to conspiracy theorists, the claim represents a vital piece of evidence that supports a theory that asserts flight MH370 was intentionally stolen by the US, and safely landed at the US military base, where all the passengers are (or were) being held.
The conspiracy theorist that published the photo claims that the EXIF information on a photo cannot be altered (or that it is very difficult to do so), and thus the photo must have been taken in Diego Garcia.
After looking at the EXIF information ourselves, the photo does show GPS coordinates that match up to the island Diego Garcia, and a man named Phillip Wood was on the flight MH370. It appears the photo first surfaced on website 4chan.
Upon investigating the photo we requested or sought out information from various experts in the digital photography world to find out what they thought about the photo in question.
Firstly, the notion put forth by the theory that claims the EXIF information on a photo cannot be altered has been disputed by numerous digital experts. Forum members from various digital photography websites have maintained that altering EXIF information, even doing so without an obvious digital fingerprint, is indeed possible, providing you have the correct software and a working knowledge of digital photography.
This immediately discredits the conspiracy theory, that hinged on the false assertion that a photo’s EXIF information could not be changed and thus the photo must have been taken in Diego Garcia. The fact that the EXIF information can be changed means the photo could have been taken anywhere in the world.
We contacted a website called fourandsix.com who deal with digital forensics, and they reiterated that altering the EXIF information can be done, and even ran an instance of the photo through a project belonging to them called izitru.com, a website designed to tell if photos have been modified. The results suggested that the photo was not the original, and that it has been run through a type of photo editing software. This is not to say that the photo itself had been digitally manipulated, but highlights a strong possibility that the photo had indeed been modified in some significant way.
We ran multiple instances of the photo, obtained from various websites, through the same site and received similar results.
One of the tests performed by izitru.com suggested that the EXIF information present was not consistent with that of an iPhone 5 output – this information seems to be supported by an evaluation from a site known as fotoforensics.com, who analysed the photo and maintained that important EXIF information that would normally be present in an iPhone 5 photo was not there, and many values were inconsistent to what one would expect to find in a photo from an iPhone 5. Ultimately suggesting [again] that the photo had been modified. Read their report here.
Furthermore, after more investigation into the photo, we found the term “Picasa” located inside the images EXIF output. Picasa is a Google owned image organiser and editor that, amongst other things, has the ability to alter EXIF information, including GPS coordinates. It’s entry into the EXIF information of the photo is not consistent with an original iPhone 5 photo (we compared a genuine iPhone 5 photo with this one) and thus, proves, as much as one can prove in the world of digital forensics, that the photo is a hoax.
Of course none of this is concrete evidence of anything. In digital forensics, it is notoriously and inherently difficult to prove anything, given the very nature of its digital, cyber world. But in this case, therein lies the point – the photo isn’t proof of anything. Digital analysis suggests the photo is certainly not reliable and shows clear signs of modification, and the revelation that the photo first surfaced on 4chan, a website notorious for online trickery, means that the photo should be taken with much more than just a pinch of salt.
Whilst many conspiracy theorist will invariably come out with plenty of “100% confirmed evidence” that they claim will prove the theory that MH370 was hijacked or captured, this photo – that the entire Diego Garcia theory seems largely reliant on – certainly does not qualify as any kind of evidence, and frankly shouldn’t be trusted at all.
“I think this is the first time I’ve seen a photo of nothing presented as proof of anything.” – www.fourandsix.com