Yik Yak, an anonymous bulletin board, reveals the exact location of its users

Yik Yak, an anonymous bulletin board, reveals the exact location of its users

Yik Yak, a local anonymous bulletin board app, allows users to determine their actual locations and unique IDs. he was able to obtain the GPS coordinates of where posts and comments originated, accurate to within 10 to 15 feet, and he reported his results to the firm in April.

Yik Yak, an anonymous bulletin board, reveals the exact location of its users

Motherboard spoke with David Teather, a computer science student based in Madison, Wisconsin, who raised the security concerns to Yik Yak and went on to publish his findings in a blog post. The app shows posts from nearby users but displays only approximate location, such as “around 1 mile away,” up to five miles, to give users a sense of where in their nearby community updates are coming from.

Yik Yak was popular on college campuses when it first started in 2013, where it was frequently used to gossip, publish updates, and cyberbully other students. The app was shut down in 2017 due to dwindling relevance and poor attempts at content filtering, only to resurface last year. The startup announced in November that it had reached 2 million users.

Though Yik Yak promises anonymity, Teather points out that combining GPS coordinates and user IDs could de-anonymize users and find out where people live since many are likely to be using it from home and the data is accurate to within 10 to 15 feet. That combination of information could be used to stalk or watch a particular person, and Teather mentions that the risk could be higher for people living in rural areas where homes are more than 10 to 15 feet apart because a GPS location could narrow a user down to one address.

the data is accessible to researchers like Teather, who know how to use tools and write code to extract information — but the risk was real enough to prompt Teather to bring it to Yik Yak’s attention.

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