The Internet knows where your cat lives
A Florida State University professor has taken cat pictures shared on social media and plotted them on a global map. Is your cat on the map?
Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 09:21 AM
If you've posted a photo of your cat on a photo-sharing network like Instagram, Flickr or Twitpic, Owen Mundy knows where your feline friend lives. He likely knows where you live, too.
Mundy, a Florida State University professor, is the creator of I Know Where Your Cat Lives, a website that takes photos tagged with the word "cat" and displays them on a map using satellite imagery.
Mundy was able to place the cats at their addresses using the latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in the photos' metadata— but don't worry: specific street addresses aren't displayed.
But Mundy says his data experiment isn't about sharing cat photos or scaring pet owners — he's demonstrating how much information we make widely available by simply posting a harmless cat picture online.
"I have a daughter and had been posting pictures of her on Instagram for about a year, and then I realized that Instagram had created a map of every picture I had been sharing with the world," he told Motherboard.
"That scared me. So I thought, what's the least creepy, most fun way to do this? It's less likely someone is going to try to kidnap your cat, but, to a lot of people, their pets are like a child."
With the help of an FSU supercomputer, Mundy geotagged and uploaded a sample of 1 million random photos tagged with "cat" that were posted on photo-sharing sites.
The pictures come from across the globe, but most of the feline images are from the United States, Russia, Britain and Brazil.
While the cat pictures on his map are placed at the address from which they were taken, there's no way to trace an image back to its original social media account.
If users want their cat's photo removed from the map, Mundy says all they have to do is increase the privacy settings on their phones and within 30 days, the image will disappear from his website.
Some users have chosen to remove their cats' pictures, but Mundy says he gets more requests from people looking to get their felines plotted on the map than from those wanting them removed.
He's currently trying to raise $2,500 on Kickstarter to pay for servers to keep his website running.
"I think it's logical to do something like this," he said. "Privacy is an ongoing, changing thing, and I hope this becomes part of the conversation."
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