Tracking (and Being Tracked) with Twitter

Your Twitter Account Can Leave You Vulnerable to Stalking

Social Media Site Twitter
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The aptly named Creepy is a "geolocation aggregator," which is to say that it gathers location data from social networking sites and image hosting services.

How Does Creepy Work?

Digital image files contain EXIF tags which record the image's date and timestamp information. Some cameras and smartphones can also provide GPS data along with the timestamp. By using Creepy to collect information from Twitter, Flickr and other apps, you can track a subject's movements and create a composite map.

According to the Creepy website, "Using Creepy for any illegal or unethical purposes is strictly forbidden and the developer assumes no liability." Even so, this application is a stalker's dream.

Installing Creepy

I decided to take Creepy for a test run using a couple of colleagues as guinea pigs. Both are involved in the security industry and both Tweet. A lot.

Downloading the Creepy executable from the web was as simple as it gets. Once installed, the program left a shortcut on my desktop that looked like the Eye of Sauron. As this is an open source Proof of Concept (PoC) application, the documentation is thin, but the minimalist interface is intuitive enough.

Tracking the First Subject

I began the tracking exercise by entering the Twitter Username in the box of the same name and clicking "Geolocate Target." (See? Intuitive.) Then I went for a snack because it takes time for this program to scan the Twitosphere.

A few minutes later, Creepy had retrieved over 2200 Tweets and extracted 115 locations. Not only did I get a map with each location pin marked, but I also had a list of lat/long, time and date.

Tracking the Second Subject

Scanning my next subject kicked up a comparable number of Tweets. But out of almost 2,000, Creepy only extracted one location.

So while my first subject was as easy to follow as Hansel and Gretel, number two was virtually invisible.

The Moral of the Story

The difference in results is easy to explain. Twitter has a Tweet Location feature that users can opt into on their account settings page. For privacy reasons, Twitter leaves this setting off by default.

The Twitter Help Center also offers this bit of advice:

Be cautious and careful about the amount of information you share online. There may be some updates where you want to share your location ("The parade is starting now." or "A truck just spilled delicious candy all over the roadway!"), and some updates where you want to keep your location private. Just like you might not want to tweet your home address, please be cautious in tweeting coordinates you don't want others to see.

Two intersecting trends are challenging the very concept of privacy. The first trend is the enormous amount of personal information available online. The second trend is the ever increasing speed at which that information can be searched and analyzed.

The moral of the story is, you're still responsible for the information you share online.

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