To tweet is essentially to make public what would otherwise be considered private information. While some use Twitter to comment on a particular topic, share jokes, quotes or random insights, many Twitter users take the site’s prompt quite literally and share, with varying degrees of specificity, “what’s happening” in their lives.
The Twitter homepage includes a link titled “Privacy” which explains, in short, that if privacy is what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Fair enough, and indeed, rather obvious. Twitter is perhaps the least restrained and least complicated social media outlet. What you see is what you get. Even when we know that to be true, it’s easy to get comfortable—particularly if you use Twitter from a phone, and frequently. This, however, can lead to compromising the safety of personal information beyond what even the most loose-lipped Twitterer may have intended.
Many people who post their photos online are just becoming aware that a photo can contain information about where it was taken. Technology writer Kate Murphy addressed the issue of the geotagged photograph in the August 12th edition of The New York Times. In the article, Murphy explains how the default setting for devices that are GPS enabled is to attach longitude and latitude coordinates to any photo taken with that same device. This information does not show when the photo is uploaded or shared, but on many websites that data remains available to anyone willing to apply the very simple (and free) browser add-on technology it takes to locate the photo’s subject. According to The Times, Facebook does not upload such data and Flickr is working to disable geotagged photographs. Twitter is not the only site where photos containing geotags can be posted, but it does present a particular risk when photos are often accompanied by additionally compromising and up-to-the-minute information such as “Leaving my house” or “Out at dinner.”
It seems unlikely to me that I would be stalked. Anyone looking to break into my house would be seriously disappointed. Nevertheless, this particular privacy matter is a good reminder to double-check what I put online. For me, that means asking myself if what I share online is something I would be comfortable saying aloud in a crowded subway car. While others may have a more liberal take on what can be safely posted, everyone should have a line that cannot be crossed when it comes to maintaining privacy (and managing a public identity) on the web.
Fortunately, it is possible to disable the geotag setting on your smartphone or PDA. Still, doing so reminds me that if the information I post to the internet conceivably compromises my safety or the safety of people I care about, it probably isn’t worth it.