Thursday, March 31, 2011

iStalkers coming to a computer near you

We've all heard the stories. People robbed by burglars watching their statuses on Facebook or Twitter. Objects stolen after being located on Flickr or Picassa. Checkins from Yelp or Foursquare telling thieves when it is safe to steal. We've all been warned. But most of us thought, "It takes so much work to use these tools, the odds of me being targeted are minimal."

But the odds just got a whole lot worse. Under the guise of "raising awareness", a student has invented "Creepy", a tool to aggregate geolocation data and pinpoint any target in space and time. It has been released for Windows and Linux, and is coming soon for Mac. It may be time to consider locking down your social networking accounts. Especially if you have children, or live alone.

"Everything is location aware these days. Your mobile phone has a GPS receiver, your social networking platforms want to know where you are," Kakavas warned. "There is the category of users who sacrifice their own privacy for exhibitionism. I don't agree with them but at least they do it consciously, and they have to bear the consequences. Then there are the people who share sporadically some of their information, thinking that it can't go wrong.

"The above two categories are the ones who need to be 'scared' and understand what someone with malicious intentions can do with their publicly-shared information, no matter how much they think they share. Lastly there is the category of people who might not know exactly what geo-tagging is, and clicked 'allow' in the 'Twitter app wants to use your current location' prompt without really paying attention. Those users need to be educated, warned about the potential risks and to become aware."

Kekavas admits that the release of the tool might prove unsettling, with many likely to view it as an invasion of privacy despite its use of publicly-available information. "They are right, it is unsettling," he confesses, "but they need to understand that what is unsettling is the fact that they give out that much private information, not the fact that services like Creepy can aggregate this information.

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