"I Know Where Your Cat Lives" may have a funny name, but it comes with a serious message.
Creator Owen Mundy, a researcher and professor at Florida State University, says he developed the site to show people not only how easy it is to access your data, but how much data people are uploading that they’re not even aware of.
"I was using Instagram to photograph my 3-year-old one day, and I realized that the app had been recording and embedding the geographic coordinates of my backyard," Mundy said. "I was concerned because I didn't explicitly give permission to share this data, nor did I tell Instagram they could make it publicly available via their API (application program interface).
Using the longitude and latitude coordinates embedded in their metadata, the site originally mapped about 1 million public pictures with the hashtag "cat," all of them posted on photo sharing applications like Instagram and Flickr.
Depending on where your post your photos, your house could wind up on the map showing anyone online where your cat, and where you live.
Mundy says he chose cats because it seemed like an effective way to get the conversation going.
"I wanted to translate the creepiness of the experience in a way that was fun, but technically harmless," Mundy said. "Not only are cats an important part of Internet culture, but in many ways they are loved like children."
In Tucson there are more than 800 photos on the map, so KGUN9 wanted to see how accurate it is. Sabrina Mesa posted a picture of her orange Tabby cat Lucas on Instagram three years ago, and it led us right to her front door. When we showed her the picture she immediately recognized him.
"It doesn't surprise me too much because I work in IT, and I know nothing on the Internet is private," Mesa said.
"It was kinda weird, but I like cats," Mesa said. "I can go find cool cats I guess around the country, now that I know something like that exists."
KGUN9 was also able to track down Angelica Barrigan and her cat Sady, after she posted an Instagram video of her feline friend playing with a toothbrush.
"I don't mind the picture being out there. What's kind of alarming is that you were able to track me down and find me, find the person who owns the cat," Barrigan said
Barragan had no idea she would be so easy to find. If awareness was the goal of "I Know Where Your Cat Lives," it certainly got Barragan's attention.
"Mission accomplished. Definitely I would've never known about this if you hadn't knocked on my door," Barragan said.
Barragan says she will check and see what the privacy settings are on her phone, but will continue to love all things cats.
"A lot of people are not cat people, they don't like cats," Barragan said. "But you see them in action, how can you not love a cat?"
If you have an iPhone and you want to hide your location, go to "Settings," click on "Privacy," then turn "Location Services" off. You can also adjust the settings individually for each application.
If you have an Android, go to "Settings," select "Location," and flip it off.
"I Know Where Your Cat Lives" does not store usernames, nor does it share or sell your information. If you'd like to be removed from the site, change the privacy settings on your phone and it will be taken down within 30 days.
Since the site started in 2014, of the original one million photos Mundy says the owners of 600,000 images of cats have modified their privacy settings in Instagram.
No new cat pictures are being added because recently Mundy says Instagram has made changes to their API, so strangers can't access your data in the way it was done for the his site.