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September 12, 2013 / carlispina

See Geotagged Posts for Any Twitter or Instagram User with Ready Or Not

Ready or Not? LogoOnline data security and privacy are issues that have received an increased focus from the general public in recent years as many internet users have slowly realized the implications of the information that they share online. A recent Pew Research Center report on Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online found that “86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints” and “55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.” But despite these statistics, it is clear that many social media users do not realize the ease with which their posts can be harvested to glean information about their activities and habits. Ready Or Not? is a new tool that powerfully illustrates this point and aims to educate users about their online habits.

This new service allows you to see geotagged posts for any Twitter or Instagram user plotted on a map together with information about when the item was posted. If this seems potentially creepy, that is because it is; the site was created by researchers working on a project called Teaching Privacy that is aimed at teaching high schoolers about online privacy “because they’re active social media users and perhaps a generation raised to be smart about online privacy will lead to smarter web usage over time.” Though the site’s core audience may be high schoolers, this is a powerful visual aid for showing any social media users the implications of geotagging their content and a useful tool for checking whether your own content has been geotagged.

Confirmation that my tweets are not geotagged.

Confirmation that my tweets are not geotagged.

The site is extremely easy to use. On the main page, you are presented with an overview of the site. On the right you have the option to search a username after designating whether you are interested in searching a Twitter or Instagram account. If at any point you want further instructions, hovering over the logo in the right corner will display additional prompts that explain each element of the page you are viewing. Once you are satisfied with your search, pressing enter will load all of the content for that user. If no content is found, you will be presented with a pink box stating this fact and offering suggestions of other user accounts to search to try as examples.

I started by searching for my own tweets; even though I was pretty confident that I had not enabled the geotagging feature, I wanted to check. Sure enough, I discovered that none of my content was geotagged, which was reassuring. But, I then tried one of the example searches that Ready Or Not? offers and saw the level of information that is available from the data that is freely available from Twitter and Instagram. In addition to showing locations on the map, the site also pulls in the full content of the posts, which makes it easy to figure out when the user was in each location and often what they were doing there, sometimes complete with photos.

This shows the results page with information on each element of the page.

This shows the results page with information on each element of the page.

I think this could be a great tool to use in an online privacy or security class to highlight for students how easily accessible their information is once they have posted it. The creators of the site note that their concerns are related to the ways that criminals can use this information to target social media users, but even leaving aside this concern, many users may simply be uncomfortable to discover how easy it is to track their every activity through their social media posts. While some users have certainly considered these risks and made an informed decision to nevertheless use geotagging, Ready Or Not? is a helpful way of making sure that users have fully thought through the implications of their decisions and ensuring that they are in fact making an informed decision.

Interested in learning more about attitudes towards online security? Check out the full Pew Research Center report on Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online.

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