Social media apps can disclose identity of Anonymous users through location data

This tool can disclose your identity based on your geolocation data used on social media apps

If you thought posting from your social media accounts anonymously would not be revealing your identity to anybody except your close friends, you are wrong. According to the new research from Columbia University’s Data Science Center in collaboration with Google, anybody with little know how can easily and accurately identify an anonymous user of such social media Apps.

The researchers who have published their research here (pdf) said that they took a large data set from different social media apps and removed any traces of user identities. The researchers stated that, “Almost every interaction with technology creates digital traces, from the cell tower used to route mobile calls to the vendor recording a credit card transaction; from the photographs we take off the ‘status updates’ we post online.”

Once done, they only used the geolocation data of the sample set. The geolocation data is available when user posts an update on Facebook or tags a photo on Instagram. From this geolocation data the researchers were easily able to identify the anonymous users.

To conduct the analysis, the team developed an algorithm for the sake of comparing geotagged Tweets with Instagram tagging or Checked-in information from Facebook. The objective was to check if this data could identify users or not. The same testing was done on credit card transactions information to cell tower pings. As per the findings of the study, credit card purchases comparison with cell tower pings was a much more precise and reliable method of identifying anonymous users.

Based on their research Chris Riederer and his team of Danny Echikson and Stephanie Huang created You Are Where You Go tool which reveals exactly who you are after entering a specific data. The tool takes help of your geolocation dataset based on your entries and reveals who you are despite of your taking every care to stay anonymous.

One of the authors of the research, Augustin Chaintreau told BuzzFeed that, “Many people choose not to identify themselves online. If I now tell you that your location data makes you recognizable across all of your accounts, how does that change your behavior? This is a question we now have to answer.”

Chaintreau also explained how the tool worked in identifying the anonymous users.

“[O]n LinkedIn you are likely to use your real name … but maybe you are also using Tinder or some or other application which you would not want to be linked back to your real name. Using the data in what you have posted, those accounts could be linked, even if in one of them — say Tinder— you believed you were operating in ghost mode.”

According to the co-author of the study Chris Riederer, people need to become aware of the importance of location data because they tend to share it on varied apps without even realizing the repercussions.

“Companies no longer have to be very sophisticated to access this data and use it for their own purposes,” added Riederer.

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