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September 16, 2013 / carlispina

Analyze the Information You Share on Twitter with GeoSocial Footprint

GeoSocial FootprintLast week I wrote about Ready Or Not? a tool for mapping geotagged tweets and Instagrams meant to illustrate the risks associated with sharing geotagged information online and today I want to continue in the same vein with a discussion of GeoSocial Footprint. Developed by a graduate student by the name of Chris Weidemann, who also wrote an article in the International Journal of Geoinformatics regarding his findings in this area, GeoSocial Footprint allows users to track the geographic information that they share on Twitter and view it plotted on a map. The tool, which is currently in beta, then goes one step further to alert users about information that can potentially be deduced from their posts (such as their potential home address), how high risk their posts are, and provides suggestions for where they can get more information about protecting their data or learning more about the privacy concerns.

In many ways, GeoSocial Footprint is very similar to Ready Or Not?, but the two services are also distinct. For one thing, GeoSocial Footprint focuses only on Twitter at this time. However, at the same time, GeoSocial Footprint goes further with the data it collects from Twitter, using “GPS enabled tweets, social check-ins, natural language location searching (geocoding), and profile harvesting” rather than simply geotagged tweets. Both tools display the resulting information on a map, but GeoSocial Footprint offers an alternate heat map view that highlights geographic areas where the user has revealed a particularly large amount of data and offers the option to download the tweets that were used in the analysis so you can see exactly which tweets are giving away geographic information. I also really like the fact that GeoSocial Footprint specifically alerts users to the type of information that others may be able to find from their activity and their level of risk. While there is a lot of value in simply seeing data points on the map, the point is even more starkly made when GeoSocial Footprint tells you the likely coordinates of your residence. It also breaks down how many tweets it found relevant in each particular way. I also really like the fact that GeoSocial Footprint connects users with information about how to change their use of Twitter if they are concerned with the results of the analysis as well as some of the potential risks inherent in sharing this information publicly online.

An example of GeoSocial Footprint

An example of GeoSocial Footprint

GeoSocial Footprint is another valuable tool for librarians or educators who are interested in teaching social media users about the implications of the information that they share online. To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with sharing information online or even geotagging this information, but too frequently I think that people share this information without realizing that they are doing so or without fully considering how this information might be used to track their activities. Tools such as GeoSocial Footprint and Ready Or Not? can be powerful tools for ensuring that social media users are making informed decisions about how and when they share personal information. (Special thanks to Jan Holmquist, who shared an article on Twitter that brought this tool to my attention.)

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