Your Shared Pictures Give Up Your Location

Are you one of those people who loves to take snapshots of your pets and share them on the Internet? If you are, we totally understand that urge to show the world how cute you kitty is and the cool tricks your pup can do. But what you may not know is that even if you don’t add any tags or information to that image, you may still be giving up your location. The website http://iknowwhereyourcatlives.com/ is a project that was set up to show people how fast their private information gets spread around when they share these innocent photos.

App Settings Are Not Private By Default

When we share photos online, we use apps that upload them for us onto different platforms. But that’s not the only place they go. And even if our accounts on Instagram and Facebook for instance are set for privacy, the photos usually get shared as public along with the geographical data that is attached to them. This is a serious privacy faux pas that exposes you to danger from online criminals and data-greedy companies.

The website project of Owen Mundy, http://iknowwhereyourcatlives.com/, focuses on cat photos because, let’s face it, cats currently rule the Internet. When you go to the website’s home page, you will see a map showing some photos that are tagged based on location. When you zoom out to see the whole map, there are as many as two hundred thousand photos per region. Zooming back in, you can read where each photo was taken. Over a period of 17 months, Professor Mundy’s website has collected more than 5.3 million geotagged photos. And these are just photos of cats. On older websites like Instagram, there are already more than 85 million users who have posted cat pics.

Owen Mundy teaches art at Florida State University and he was very fond of uploading pictures of his three-year-old child on Instagram. That is, until he found out that the photos were being geotagged and that this location information was being shown publicly by the app. The app did not give any warning or ask permission to share this sensitive information. Professor Mundy realized immediately the dangers involved and decided to launch his awareness project. He wanted to soften the blow by using adorable cat photos, but also wanted to make sure that everyone got the point – the Internet is exposing our location data whenever we share photos.

To help spread the word about leaking location data, several artists are getting together to showcase their projects about how data moves around the Internet and how it is changing our world. The exhibition is called Big Bang Data, and it is has been open since early this month at Somerset House in London. About 50 projects of artists like Mundy who have explored the subject can be viewed. Cat pictures are everywhere, and we love them! But these photos are not as harmless as we may think as we scroll through them for our daily dose of smiles and giggles.

Protect Your Location Data

Don’t worry, you don’t have to stop showing off your fuzzy friends to plug up the location data leak. You just have to make sure to check a few settings so that the geotags do not get uploaded along with every image you post. First, make sure that your browser’s location services is turned off. This setting is very useful when you are searching for information, but this can give away your precise location. Next, clear your browser cache so that any saved data is completely removed. Finally, make sure that you are using your browser’s private mode when you upload and share photos. If you are using a mobile phone to snap photos, then you are also probably using an app that automatically uploads and posts to your preferred platform. If so, you need to make sure that the location services is turned off in the Settings menu of your device.

You will also want to use a VPN app whether you are on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The VPN will encrypt your data so that it does not leak out everywhere. You should also add privacy extensions to your browser that will block unwanted trackers and warn you of privacy issues on different websites. Securing your privacy takes some money and effort, but it is totally worth it to keep your information away from nosy people and dangerous elements.

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