Just how creepy is 'Creepy'? A test-drive
Bob Sullivan - The Red Tape Chronicles
You probably know that some Internet and cell phone applications like Foursquare or Twitter can broadcast your location to the world. And you might know that Web sites with names like PleaseRobMe and ICanStalkYou have been created with shock value in mind to call attention to the potential consequences of broadcasting such information. But those sites picked on random individuals and exposed their whereabouts one at a time.
A new software tool created by Greek programmer Yiannis Kakavas goes much farther in the shock category. Called “Creepy,” Kakavas' tool makes it easy to gather all the location-based digital breadcrumbs that people leave online and plot them on a map. The map and associated time stamps make it easy to discern their routines -- “It looks like Bob goes to this coffee shop every Friday morning around 10:30” -- a tool of incalculable use to a would-be stalker. For Web users who loyally leave breadcrumbs everywhere ("Now at Whiskey Bar!" "Now at Park Diner," "Finally home") it's possible to recreate much of their daily lives using Creepy.
What's more, unlike ICanStalkYou, users can search for any Foursquare, Twitter or Flickr user they want. Kakavas tool also adds a handy handle-search tool, in case you only know your stalking subject by their real name.
When I reached Kakavas in Germany, where he is finishing his dissertation on computer security, he took pains to make clear he wasn't trying to make life easier for stalkers.
"I was trying to make a point," he said. "I'm trying to raise awareness among users of social networking platforms that they actually do share a lot of information and this can potentially be used by people with malicious intentions."
The name, by the way, derives from the programming language he decided to use when writing his tool -- python, which creates files with the extension .py. So the name for the program, strictly speaking, is Cree.py.
The tool takes only a few moments to download. There's a Windows version along with more hacker-friendly Linux versions. Users simply enter a handle, hit "Geolocate," and then sit back and wait for results. "Hits" can come from moments-old Tweets or Flickr images posted months ago. The hits then are plotted on a map, similar to the markers that appear on Google maps after a search for a restaurant. Clicking on a single hit allows a user to zoom in on a precise location, and offers the time and any media associated with it, such as "Enjoying lunch with @RedTapeChron."
No one should be surprised that their location data ends up on Creepy -- software tools like Twitter are deliberate in asking consumers if they want to post their location and it's not hard to turn the feature off. Clearly, people who tell Foursquare where they are located know they are sharing this information with the world. Still, it's jarring to see all your location declarations plotted on a big map.