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Forget GPS. Hackers can pinpoint your exact location using social media

Forget GPS. Hackers can pinpoint your exact location using social media
photo courtesy of shutterstock

We know that corporations and governments want to track our exact GPS location all the time. If they know where to find us, they know what to sell to us. But if we turn off the GPS on our phones, they won't know where we are, right?

Not so fast. Researchers have discovered a way to pinpoint your location using social media. Even if you turn off all of your geotagging and location trackers on photos and social media, you can still be found with accuracy. And there's not much you can do about it.

Researchers at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, CA, found that it doesn't matter how well you cover your tracks, your friends will rat you out. It's not intentional, of course, but based on who you interact with on Twitter (namely your close friends), you can be identified.

Using the small subset of Twitter users who do provide GPS data or unambiguous location information, the algorithm is then able to "assign a location to a user based on the location of their friends," building up a geotagged map of users across the social network.

The algorithm is based on the idea that a "vast majority of Twitter users @mention with geographically close users," so if someone uses Twitter primarily to follow celebrities or foundations, chances are they're much harder to find. However, the researchers from Cornell said that the algorithm was "accurate to city-resolution" for 89.7% of test users.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you're using Twitter, it might be time to diversify who you follow. Because if these researchers can find you, then you can bet that advertisers and the government can find you, too.

The best way to avoid being found via social media is to stay off of social media altogether. However, it's not always feasible for someone to avoid the Internet and their digital social circle completely.

A good first step to avoiding this kind of identification is to disable geotagging on your photos. Click here to learn more about it. You should also know how to disable apps from stealing your personal information on your phone and while you're online. I have a free download that can help you with that. 

Think this is the only way you can be identified? Now there's even more ways you can be found by advertisers!

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