I Know Where Your Cat Lives and More Than You’d Like Me to Know

Posted by Pete Aug.07, 2014 in Passwords & Security

fb-post52The folks at Data Privacy Day recently brought a couple of great items to our attention: cats, students and sex, drugs and rock and roll, and metadata.

Talk about great content for blogging! :-)

Let’s face it, baby boomers had it easy. Everyone was drinking in dorms, smoking, hanging out with all sorts of characters that “mom wouldn’t approve of.” And then they graduated to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and any other profession they had set their hearts on.

This was before social media took over.

They had the freedom to try new things and be goofy without fear of being expelled from college because the university president saw a compromising video. They didn’t have to worry that a potential employer wouldn’t hire them because of a selfie that was making the rounds.

Back then, kids did what kids typically do, and then they grew up to be responsible members of society.

Back then, the worst that could happen when your buddy or girlfriend took a Polaroid picture of you sitting naked on the statue in the college quad with an ‘open container’ in your hand, was that the picture would make the rounds to all 23 of your real-life friends. Strangers didn’t care what you did and they didn’t want to see the picture.

Even the college president probably wouldn’t make a federal case out of it unless he found you still sitting there in all your glory the next morning.

But then the Internet happened. And that changed everything!

With the possibility of sharing a picture or video with the world, suddenly, the whole world just has to get a look at how stupid you are. The stupider, the better… and the more people will see the picture.

The irony of our voyeuristic society is that the more pictures are shared in this way, the more the next stupid picture matters.

Social media like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter – you name it – add a multiplier effect to the risk of that incredibly stupid, but basically innocent, picture getting in the wrong hands. And by wrong hands we mean anyone, but especially someone who has power to make decisions about your career, your choices … your life.

Nowadays, a picture of you fully-dressed next to that statue can quickly become an offense to anyone. That’s why college administrators, bosses and professional busy bodies care about even the smallest infractions.

A recent Forbes article, Privacy and Security Tips For Newly-Minted College Students helps bring this into focus:

Treat your social media presence like it’s your resume for future employers.

Once your incriminating selfie or video is in the social media hopper, you lose all control of where you will end up. In today’s world, that’s a luxury you can’t afford.

We’ll add that this is great advice for all of us, and not just college students. It’s a message that children should begin hearing when they get access to their first smartphone.

In a social media world, there are no secrets. Once you ‘share’ something with the world, it’s impossible to stop it from being spread.

What’s that? You say that you’ll be careful. You say that you’ll use the appropriate security settings on Facebook and everything will be OK – because, like, you’re in control of who sees what.

Don’t count on it.

You say that you’ll post only pictures of your pets and other non-personal things. That’s safe, right?! It’s not like you’re revealing anything really private.

Well, let’s just see… there’s nothing that screams “must see” like a cute cat picture or video on Facebook or YouTube. Other than your bad taste in wallpaper, what could you possibly reveal about yourself in a cat video?

Owen Mundy, an assistant professor at Florida State University, has performed his good deed for the year by showing how much information you may be revealing about yourself when you post something as harmless as a picture of your adorable feline. (Being the good guy that he is, he tells people what they need to do to get their cat’s picture removed from the website.)

Take a look at I Know Where Your Cat Lives (iknowwhereyourcatlives.com) to see a perfect example of what metadata can reveal about you. Metadata is data about data. In this case it’s the GPS coordinates of where all the pictures were taken.

Cat-IKWYCLHuh?!

Right, these cat owners thought they were posting pictures of their cats but unbeknownst to them, they were also revealing where they lived. Which is something they really didn’t want to do.

The immediate lesson is to make sure that you turn off the GPS function on your camera or smartphone. The more important lesson is that we often don’t know what we don’t know. You think you’re posting something that is harmless, when in fact you’re revealing more about yourselves than you ever intended to.

The long and short of it is that you have no idea where that innocent, but idiotic picture of you is going to appear or who is going to care.

So don’t post it!

Here’s a nice collection of 10 people who are now infamous thanks to social media. They didn’t think before posting, and they suffered the consequences.

Your 15 seconds of fame (don’t kid yourself, it won’t be the 15 minutes Andy Warhol promised) aren’t worth posting silly, stupid, intimate or other ‘incriminating’ photos on Facebook.

That Instagram picture could be the difference between getting a job based on your degree, or a counter job at a local retailer.

A big thanks to the folks at Data Privacy Day for bringing these great items to our attention this week.