I know where your cat lives

I know where your cat lives

Privacy on the Internet!

It's hard sometimes to imagine who might be doing what with the information you share online, or how much you should worry about it.

"I Know Where Your Cat Lives" is a new website that clearly illustrates the kinds of things that might be done with your—or your cat's—personal information.

From the site's about page:

I Know Where Your Cat Lives is a data experiment that visualizes a sample of 1 million public pics of cats on a world map, locating them 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 at Florida State University in order to represent the enormity of the data source.

This project explores two uses of the internet: the sociable and humorous appreciation of domesticated felines, and the status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all. This website doesn't visualize all of the cats on the net, only the ones that allow you to track where their owners have been.

That last paragraph is a brilliant summary of the Internet: cat pictures and data tracking.

Note that the project only collects information that cat owners willingly provide, whether they provide it intentionally or not. Which is to say you might be providing personal information when you post cute cat pictures, and not be aware of it.

So let's get smart about some stuff so you don't accidentally share info you don't want to.

(Aside: there doesn't seem to be a way to search the map by address, but here's a quick link to a cat in Denver in case you want to check whether your own Mr. Whiskers is on the map.)

So, stuff to get smart about. There are two things that you have to do in order for your cat to show up here:

  1. Upload a picture with embedded metadata to your social media, and

  2. Have your privacy settings such that anybody can view it.

Embedded Metadata

Embedded metadata is the first but, I would argue, least important part of this equation. Every smart phone and almost all modern cameras will embed metadata in your photos called Exif data. It almost always includes the time and date the picture was taken, the latitude and longitude, and other information like shutter speed, etc.

Check it out for yourself. There are online Exif data viewers where you can upload a photo of your own, or point to a URL, and see what's inside. I like this one.

You can usually turn off geolocation on your phone in your camera settings. For example, here's how I do it on my Android from the camera app.

Note though that when you turn off location data, you prevent yourself from being able to do some really cool things like using the Stories feature on Google Plus.

If you have photos saved to your hard drive, you can remove metadata using Windows Explorer:

Do note that this method apparently doesn't always strip all of the geo data. There are other 3rd party apps that strip metadata, including Irfanview, a free and robust image program we include among the software installed on our computers in the library.

And as a final note on Exif data, imgur.com, one of the most popular (and, be warned, potentially not-safe-for-work) photo hosting/sharing sites on the Internet, automatically strips all metadata from photos uploaded to the site. Anonymity is a large appeal of the site.

Your Privacy Settings

Your privacy settings on your social media are more important than the metadata in your photos.

If you upload a photo full of metadata, but then restrict access to just your friends and family, then there's no way for the Internet to know where your cat lives.

In fact, to really drive the point home, the only way to remove a photo of yourself (or your cat) from iknowwhereyourcatlives.com is to go to the original photo, where ever it is you posted it, and adjust your privacy settings.

If you don't want your info to be public, then put it behind a friends-only filter.

Where to go from here

The Community Technology Center offers several classes that touch on these topics. Use the links below to browse through the class handouts, and see when they'll be offered next.

Oh, and here's a picture of my cat.


This is hilarious. Thanks for posting!

Need a good book? Lost Cat: A true story of love, desperation, and GPS technology by Caroline Paul; drawings by Wendy McNaughton.

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