Twitter is a popular social media platform, but tweeting can prove risky at times. Researchers have found that geographic location stamps transmitted in tweets are sufficient enough to provide the information required to deduce users’ living and work locations.
No need of high-tech data skills
The clustering of the posting locations leads to such information. The location at which a poster spends the most time can be easily found with the help of assemblage, which provides location patterns that help in making a good guess.
The non-scientists recruited for the study were easily able to pick out the workplaces and homes of the people tweeting when the location patterns were coupled with other data such as the time of a day, said researchers from MIT and Oxford University in a press release.
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Location sharing is off by default, and even when the user turns on the feature, the tweeted location appears to be a broad-brushed label. For example, if the user is in Los Angeles, the label is simply “Los Angeles,” but there is the option of sharing an exact, precise location.
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Twitter uses highly accurate latitude and longitude coordinates to log locations, and this can be openly searched with an API. Researchers presented that kind of data to the study’s participants, who were then able to use it to figure out users’ work and home locations.
Twitter users unaware of the risk
The first author on the paper and a research scientist at MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative, Ilaria Liccardi, said, “Many people have this idea that only machine-learning techniques can discover interesting patterns in location data.”
An important point to note here is that figuring out locations was possible for average people without specialized big data skills.
Liccardi explained, “When you send location data as a secondary piece of information, it is extremely simple for people with very little technical knowledge to find out where you work or live.”
The participants succeeded more than 85% of the time in identifying Twitter users’ workplaces with just five days’ worth of data. What makes this interesting is the possibility that posters are publicly sharing their locations unintentionally. The researchers note that users are not aware that by doing this, they are making it easy for the “man in the street” to figure out their work and home locations.