How Stalking Cats Taught Millions An Important Lesson In Cybersecurity

A project which basically stalked cats on social media taught millions a harsh lesson in cybersecurity

  • Owen Mundy created to educate social media users on data contained in images shared to social media

  • Mundy claimed 60% of the first 1 million cats on the site were removed because the cat’s owner changed their privacy settings

  • The project came to life just months before the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal was discovered

Earlier in the year, a website was launched with the general purpose of stalking cats through images uploaded to social media sites. The site posts the locations of cats from around the world by running a query for public photos tagged with cats from the APIs provided by Flickr, Twitpic, Instagram, and a few others.

At first glance, appears to be the perfect mix of comedy and creepiness that captures the very essence of cyberculture. In reality, the site was used to teach millions a harsh lesson in cybersecurity.

According to THV11, at one point the site was tracking 7 million cats but the number has drastically dropped, which is one of the goals of the project. Researcher and technologist Owen Mundy got the idea for the project while photographing his daughter and posting the images to Instagram. Mundy realized he was giving away his GPS location with every image.

And, I realized that all of that data was made available to all the third party developers…I saw it as a problem, it’s a data leak.

An about section on the site gives more in-depth detail on the thought process behind the project.

Welcome to today’s internet—you can buy anything, every website is tracking your every move, and anywhere you look you find videos and images of cats. Currently, there are 15 million images tagged with the word “cat” on public image hosting sites, and daily thousands more are uploaded from unlimited positions on the globe.

I Know Where Your Cat Lives is a data visualization experiment that locates a sample of one million public images of cats on a world map by the latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in their metadata. The cats were accessed via publicly available APIs provided by popular photo sharing websites. The photos were then run through various clustering algorithms using a supercomputer in order to represent the enormity of the data source.

This project explores two uses of the internet: one that promotes sharing for the sociable and humorous appreciation of domesticated felines, and one in which the status quo of personal data usage is exploited by startups and international mega-corporations, who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all. I Know Where Your Cat Lives does not visualize all of the cats on the net, only those public cats that have allowed me to track where their owners have been.

Thanks for letting us be your cat fan headquarters; keep the pictures coming.

The project seems to have been a success as Mundy claimed 60% of the original 1 million pictures he had collected were removed because the cat’s owner changed their privacy settings. Along with educating social media users of the data contained within images, social media sites began cracking down on third-parties collecting data from their users following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that led to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg being questioned by Congress for 10 hours.

In March it was discovered the data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign accessed the information of roughly 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.



About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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