FSU professor demonstrates internet privacy concerns through cyber cat creeping

Lauren Clark
Arizona Campus Correspondent

  • An FSU professor has developed a system to figure out the GPS location of cats pictured in social media.
  • Owen Mundy developed the project to show how unsecured sites like Instagram and Twitter are.
  • Not even cats have guaranteed privacy thanks to today’s technology.

    Owen Mundy, an associate professor at Florida State University, has developed a web based experiment—“I know where your cat lives”— to locate pet felines online.

    "Privacy is an ongoing, changing thing, and I hope this becomes part of the conversation."   

    The interactive site features pictures of cats from around the world with their locations pulled from the picture’s metadata. There are even digital maps explaining the cat populations across the globe, according to the project.

    On the site, Mundy explains that each picture contains embedded longitude and latitude data.

    “The photos were then run through various clustering algorithms using a supercomputer at Florida State University in order to represent the enormity of the data source," said Mundy on the project’s website.

    After compiling the information from cat photos tagged on social media sites such as Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram, the website pins the locations.

    The project is accurate to within an estimated 25.6 feet.

    For Mundy, the project proves a serious point. After realizing that the pictures he posted on Instagram of his daughter could be tracked online, he wanted a unique way to illustrate to others what might happen to the concept of privacy.

    “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," Mundy said. "I think it's logical to do something like this. Privacy is an ongoing, changing thing, and I hope this becomes part of the conversation."

    Due to privacy concerns, Mundy was careful while implementing the project. He made sure the photos themselves could not be traced back to the original owner aside from the location of where they took the picture. Site visitors are free to remove their cat’s picture if they are uncomfortable.

    So far, Mundy says people have had a positive reaction to the project.

    “[I]t offers the data in such an enjoyable way that I've actually had many requests from people to add their cat to the map!” Mundy told The Daily Dot.

    Mundy did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @LaurenLouClark





    Lauren Clark

    Lauren Clark

    Arizona Campus Correspondent

    As a Campus Correspondent, Lauren reported on liberal bias and abuse in Arizona. Since graduating, she is no longer a Campus Correspondent.

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