How Internet detectives, and others, find out where you live

Tue May 8, 2012 4:31pm EDT
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By Claire Davenport

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An explosion of people checking into social networks is being exploited by mobile application makers and private detectives, who say they can use people's online chatter and photos to track them and find out where they live.

In March, Apple stopped downloads of a "stalker" mobile application that told men where women around them were "hanging out", using only publicly available information from social networks.

But other readily available apps can do the same and more, say online investigators who use them.

When a person uses a mobile phone to post a tweet on Twitter or upload a photo to the image-hosting website Flickr, sometimes so-called geolocation data can be found lurking underneath the tweet or photo. This can be used to track down their local haunts, including their home or where they study.

"It is quite easy sometimes to work out which house a tweet is coming from," said Neil Smith, a former police officer turned online researcher in Britain.

Geolocation research is a fast evolving area as most applications are built on the back of freely available open-source software.

One of Smith's favorite applications was developed by 27-year-old Greek IT engineer Ioannis Kakavas, who aptly called his invention Creepy.

The free app collates geolocation data attached to a person's tweets and pictures to figure out where they might work, said Smith, who says he uses it to track down perpetrators of insurance fraud for corporate clients.   Continued...

A woman uses a computer keyboard in this photo illustration taken in Sydney June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne