Feline finder site exposes internet privacy problems

Owen Mundy is the Associate Professor for the Department of Art at Florida State University, and the creator of the I Know Where Your Cat Lives website.

Thereâ??s a new website that innocently seems to be about cats and the people who love them. Itâ??s called, I Know Where Your Cat Lives. The problem is if people know where your cat lives, then they might know where you live too.

Owen Mundy is the Associate Professor for the Department of Art at Florida State University, and the creator of the I Know Where Your Cat Lives website.

Mundy says he got the idea for the project after he realized that he had been posting pictures of his child to Instagram and that the location of his home was attached to them without his knowledge. He wanted others to know how easy it is for people to access this type of personal information through the information that social media websites share.

â??This project is a website that visualizes a sample of 1 million public photographs of cats on a world map using the geographical coordinates that were embedded in the metadata that people uploaded,â?? said Mundy.

Itâ??s as simple as uploading a photo of your cat to your favorite social media website, making it public and attaching the location of where the photo was taken. But according to Mundy, the location default settings on these applications could be allowing this kind of information to go public without you even knowing about it.

And the fact that you love your cat isnâ??t the only thing that people can find out about you.

â??Ultimately we are responsible for the data we upload because we are uploading it, but at the same if these companies expect us to trust our data with them, then they should make it easier and they should make the default more privacyâ?|not less,â?? said Mundy.

"They (people) want to be asked first if they want to know exactly what data is being shared and they don't want to have to dig down into the options to turn off this special button and not that button," said Mundy.

Mundy says he created his own software program for the project.

According to the website, â??Itâ??s simple, really. But not so simple, really. We procured the images by running a query for public photos tagged with cats from the APIâ??s provided by Flickr, Twitpic, Instagram, and a few others.â??

He says he started collecting the data one year ago. He only took the information for 1 million cats in the world, but estimates that there are truly around 15 million images tagged with the word "cat" on public image hosting sites and that thousands more are added on a daily basis.

7&4 News explored the website to try and find one of the famous felines in Traverse City.

The website allowed us to see that the cat we had chosen lived on Washington Street near Barlow and Hope Streets. After knocking on several doors and talking with a few neighbors, our crew was able to find where Monty the cat and his family live.

â??I know thatâ??s my cat,â?? said Andrew McFarlane as we showed him the picture of Monty on the website's map.

McFarlane says his wife posts photos of their cats to social media websites often.

â??If the website were, I Know Where Your Kid Lives, that would creep me out a lot moreâ?|but itâ??s basically the same thing,â?? said McFarlane. â??Definitely you need to think about what youâ??re going to share and Iâ??m okay with people knowing where I live and that my catâ??s there, but I might not be okay with them knowing other things.â??

Since Mundy is no longer collecting data, posting an image of a cat and looking for it on the I Know Where Your Cat Lives website will not work.

If you find your cat on the website and donâ??t want it there, Mundy says itâ??s easy to get rid of. Just go to the social media site where you posted the picture and either delete the photograph or increase your privacy settings accordingly.

Mundy says the picture of your cat will be gone within 30 days.

Mundy says he was surprised to hear from many of the website users who said that they were disappointed that there cats didnâ??t make the cut to be one of the chosen 1 million famous felines.

He says the personal data that was found and used to create the site was not stored, and will not be shared.

For more information on I Know Where Your Cat Lives, or to read about the websiteâ??s privacy settings, click here.

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