This privacy experiment lets anyone on the internet see where your cat lives

I Know Where Your Cat Lives

When you snap a photo and upload it to your favourite social network site, chances are you’re more focused on spreading the image and not really thinking about what else you’re sharing. But that photo contains information about everything from what device you used to where you were when it was taken. And if the subject was your cat, you may have another privacy issue to worry about.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives is an experiment by Florida State University associate professor Owen Mundy which aims to highlight just how much we (often unknowingly) share online, and how much information major sites share with third parties.

Using the publicly available APIs for sites like Instagram, Flickr and Twitpic, Mundy (with help from ICT major Alissa McShane) has plotted the locations of a million cats worldwide, based on the geo-location data shared when their owners uploaded the photos and a search for the term “cat”.

The result is a website which shows the location where cat photos were shared on an interactive Google Map, allowing anyone to navigate to a particular country, city or suburb and browse the felines in residence. You can also click a button and the site will randomly generate a cat photo for you, posted from locations ranging from Paris to Cape Town and London.

According to the team, the locations of the photos are accurate within 7.8 meters, and are a small sample of the more than 15-million publicly available cat photos on image hosting sites.

Cats of the world

While the project is not designed to stalk your cat in a creepy way, it does make an easy-to-understand point about online privacy. Specifically, the team says that it hopes to use the internet’s favourite animal to draw attention to “the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all”.

Cat owners who spot their fluffy friend on the site can remove it by adjusting the privacy settings on the original photo they shared, which will then ensure the shot is taken off the map after 30 days.

The researchers are currently running a KickStarter campaign to secure the funding needed to keep the project going — while the map and site are complete, the hosting costs for more than 32GB of cat data are increasing as traffic to the site rises. The team is hoping to raise US$2500 to keep their site up and running for another year.



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