If you’re concerned about government or third-party organizations tracking your online activity, it’s no secret that you should probably steer clear of social media sites. New research on the micro-blogging network Twitter reveals that one-fifth of tweets reveal user location, providing a treasure trove of geo-tagged information for any snoop who is interested.
Researchers at the University of Southern California sampled more than 15 million tweets, showing that some Twitter users may be inadvertently revealing their location through updates on the social media channel.
“I’m a pretty private person, and I wish others would be more cautious with the types of information they share,” said lead author Chris Weidemann, a graduate student in the Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) at USC. “There are all sorts of information that can be gleaned from things outside of the tweet itself.”
While many Twitter users divulged their physical location on purpose by using active location monitoring or GPS coordinates, 2.2 percent of all tweets — equating to about 4.4 million tweets a day — provided so-called “ambient” location data, where the user might not be aware that they are divulging their location.
“The downside is that mining this kind of information can also provide opportunities for criminal misuse of data,” Weidemann said. “My intent is to educate social media users and inform the public about their privacy.”
Twitter has about 500 million active users, who are expected to tweet 72 billion times in 2013. Only about 6 percent of Twitter users opt in to allow the platform to broadcast their location with every tweet, according to the research.