If you’re using a fake name for your Twitter, Foursquare, Tinder or Instagram account in an attempt to keep yourself anonymous, you’re in for a shock! According to a recent report from Colombia University, in conjunction with Google, the geotagged posts on as few as two social media apps are enough to connect them to various other accounts you have online.
“Creating separate identities online could be an illusion,” study author Augustin Chaintreau, a computer science professor at Columbia and a member of the Data Science Institute, told BuzzFeed News. “Your metadata points back to a single user… just your location data could make you recognizable across all your various accounts.”
The studies concluded that the metadata that you’re leaving in the apps is so distinctive that most people could be identified fairly easy by connecting just a handful of data points. left in the apps
Setting geotaggint to “on”, which many of us to add locations to Instagram photos and tweets, was just one of the examples of the trail of digital breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind that could connect your anonymous Twitter account to your personal LinkedIn.
“For example, on LinkedIn you are likely to use your real name … but maybe you are also using Tinder or some or other application which you would not want linked back to your real name. Using the data in what you have posted those accounts could be linked, even if in one of them — say Tinder— you believed you were operating in ghost mode,”.
The team who performed the study developed an algorithm the looked at geotagged posts and compared them to posts on other platforms, which then suggested various accounts that may be linked.
The algorithm calculated the likelihood that one person posting at a specific place and time would also be using another app to set another location and time. The report found, for instance, that even if a credit card is used on average once every three days, a few monthly bills suffice to link shoppers to anonymized logs of their mobile phones.
The perils of geotagging your social media uploads has been well established. In 2010, a study by the International Computer Science Institute demonstrated that it was possible to find your home address if you had posted on Craigslist, regardless of whether you had opted to keep your address hidden.
“You would imagine that people would be better informed, but it is hard for anyone to know the consequence of sharing information online.”