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Geotagged tweets and privacy

03 January, 2016 by Tom

The ability to geotag tweets in Twitter is an option that is not enabled by default. Users have to specifically choose a location or ‘share precise location’ (after enabling location services) if using the Twitter app on smartphones described here. 3rd party Apps such as Instagram may also attach geolocational data to tweets.

When a tweet is geotagged, the precise longitude and latitude values are available through the public Twitter API (and therefore to Social Bearing), just like other data in a publicly shared tweet. The accuracy of geotagged tweets (using the Twitter App) is accurate to around 50 metres, however accuracy may vary with other apps that publish geotagged tweets such as Instagram, Foursquare or Untappd.

Despite knowingly sharing locational information via Twitter, users may be unaware that their *almost* exact location can be used by any website or tool that makes use of this publicly accessible geolocated information through the Twitter API.

This is why (unlike a number of other Twitter mapping tools) Social Bearing have taken the following measures when displaying geotagged tweets:

Randomised location

Although exact co-ordinates of a geotagged tweet are available through the Twitter API, Social Bearing has distorted the placement of the tweet markers by randomising the longitude and latitude values so a tweet marker falls in an area greater than the size of a football pitch. This would make it hard to determine the street from where the tweet has originated, let alone the address.

This level of randomisation should strike a good balance between obscuring specific locations of individual tweets whilst providing meaningful data for large crowds and public events.

No caching or storing of locational data. 

Tweet data is accessed direct from the Twitter API using the search endpoint and visualised on an Interactive Google Map. No tweet data of any kind (including geolocation) is cached or stored in anyway. Geotagged tweets, like any other tweet accessed using this endpoint, are visible for up to 7 days

Hiding profile pictures and names

Unlike other tweet and timeline searches in Social Bearing, all profile pictures and display names in the geolocation search are not displayed. This reduces the personal aspect and helps adds a level of anonymity to tweets.

Viewing tweets requires authentication

Anyone wanting to view geo located tweets will first need to sign in to Twitter and authenticate Social Bearing, making it less publicly accessible (to people as well as website scrapers).

If you have any suggestions or feedback on how geotagged tweets are being displayed, please leave a comment below.

 



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