The End of Anonymity

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I have a confession.

I post way too many pictures of my cat online. People who know me well are all too familiar with my Instagram and Facebook tributes to my feline best friend, known as Kitty. I can’t help it. Kitty is too darn cute. Am I obsessed? Maybe. But, what’s the harm, really?

Well, turns out those cat photos could be doling out more information than I ever expected. Owen Mundy, an assistant professor of art at Florida State University, recently launched iknowwhereyourcatlives.com, “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.”

WHAT?!

That’s right. Mundy can tell exactly where you live based on your cat photos. 

Well, after reading about this on The New York Times, the first thing I did, of course, was check to see if any pictures of Kitty popped up on Mundy’s worldwide cat tracking map. Luckily, I didn’t find any. Seems my diligence about privacy settings paid off. But, I was able to see the adorable portraits of many of my neighbors’ furry friends.

Mundy’s project, as well as a recent article in The Atlantic by Curtis Wallen called, “How to Invent a Person Online,” got me thinking about anonymity on the Internet. We all know that what we post online isn’t private. But, is anonymity online obsolete?

What most people don’t realize is that we are often sharing more information than we think. An innocent cat picture can be packed with easily traceable metadata, such as time and date of creation, picture author, and location where the picture was uploaded.

And, as Wallen writes, “It’s not an exaggeration to say everything you do online is being followed. And the more precisely a company can tailor your online experience, the more money it can make from advertisers. As a result, the Internet you see is different from the Internet anyone else might see.”

Now, I don’t think this will stop me from posting cat pictures. But, I will be more aware of how Kitty’s online presence could affect me.

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