Geotagging Allows for Real-Time Surveillance

A new kind of web service reveals how easy it is to conduct a kind of virtual surveillance on people in a specific location – in real time — without anyone ever knowing it.

This new technology makes it possible to search social media postings – on sites such as Twitter or Instagram — not by name or social-media “handle,” but by location, and then zero in on the people found in that location.

In real time, someone can explore those people’s profiles to find out who they are and even where they live.

It’s done by searching geotags on people’s social media. A new subscriber-based service called Geofeedia, based in Evanston, makes the process easy enough for anyone to do. And while Geofeedia’s service is geared towards first-responders, journalists, and businesses – and while it prescreens its users – its technology raises general questions about who is watching you online – especially if you choose to geotag your posts to social media.

A geotag is a kind of marker users can attach to Tweets, photos and videos, showing the exact spot where the item was created or shared. Users can turn geotagging on and off through the settings of their mobile device or computer. Once it’s on, each individual social media website used — be it Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or others — keeps a virtual map of those geotags.

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