Researchers at MIT and Oxford University have shown that the location stamps on just a handful of Twitter posts — as few as eight over the course of a single day — can be enough to disclose the addresses of the poster’s home and workplace to a relatively low-tech snooper. Twitter’s location-reporting service is off by default, but many Twitter users choose to activate it. The new study is part of a more general 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.
“Many people have this idea that only machine-learning techniques can discover interesting patterns in location data,” says Ilaria Liccardi, a research scientist at MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative and first author on the paper. “And they feel secure that not everyone has the technical knowledge to do that. With this study, what we wanted to show is that when you send location data as a secondary piece of information, it is extremely simple for people with very little technical knowledge to find out where you work or live.”