“I Know Where You Live”: research reveals Twitter threat to privacy

“I Know Where You Live”: research reveals Twitter threat to privacy

A recently published paper by Dr Ilaria Liccardi, the Centre's Professor of Scientific Visualisation Min Chen and Research Associate Alfie Abdul-Rahman, has today been published in MIT News. Dr Liccardi worked at the Oxford e-Research Centre from September 2014 to August 2015, under an EC-funded Marie Curie fellowship to assist career development and encourage inter-disciplinarity and collaboration between institutions within the EU.

The paper, entitled "I Know Where You Live: Inferring Details of People's Lives by Visualizing Publicly Shared Location Data", is the result of an empirical study to analyse how accurately the location of Twitter users in the Boston area (Massachusetts) could be inferred from their tweets.

Time and location data associated with users' real tweets were presented to a group of 45 study participants in Boston and Oxford, who were asked to try to determine where the tweets had originated from, for example the Twitter users' homes, workplaces or along their commuting routes. The participants were able to correctly identify the Twitter users' homes in 50 to 65% of cases, and their workplaces at closer to 70%. The study was part of a project at MIT's Internet Policy Research Initiative to help raise awareness about just how much privacy people may be giving up when they use social media.

"I think some people in the UK can be quite unconcerned about their privacy when using social media, assuming someone would need sophisticated technology or lots of data to work out their location", says Professor Min Chen, "but this study shows that it is actually quite easy to locate people's workplaces and homes from their social media posts. What is new about this research is that it shows that such 'detective work' can be accomplished with only a few days' worth of data, some simple plots or tables, little local knowledge about the area, and hardly any special skills. It is a warning to those who do not opt out of disclosing their location data (geo-tags) when using social media or apps".

The paper was presented recently at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (ACM CHI 2016), where it received an honourable mention in the best-paper competition, a distinction reserved for only 4 percent of papers accepted to the conference.