(Tallahassee Democrat) Owen Mundy has accomplished the impossible: He has mastered herding cats.
Not just one or two cats, either. Mundy, an associate art professor at Florida State University, is right now herding one million cats on the website he created last year, "I Know Where Your Cat Lives".
Mundy's website is a world map that shows the specific location of every cat image he tracked down on Instagram and other social media sites, using the data that was included with the images of the cuddly felines.
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Mundy's quirky project went public only a couple of weeks ago, and it has quickly gone viral. It was featured in a New York Times blog about Internet privacy, which led to almost 100,000 unique visitors to the website in the following 24 hours. When the Democrat reached out to him on Wednesday morning, he had already been interviewed that day by two separate public radio stations and the Toronto Star.
Mundy, 39, says he created the website – it took more than 10 months to collect and properly upload all the data – as a teaching device.
Most of us, it seems, are unwittingly sharing far more of our personal information than we realize through our smartphones and other digital devices.
"There are lots of things you are uploading and the cat project is just one of them," Mundy said. "There's a lot of give and take with information today. It's when information is collected without our knowledge, that's what we need to question."
Mundy, who recently earned tenure at FSU, was inspired to create "I Know Where Your Cat Lives" after his own experience with Instagram. He had photographed his daughter in their backyard, posted the image on Instagram and realized moments later that it listed his location.
"I thought it was creepy," he said.
He knew instinctively that a similar project featuring photos of children with their addresses (I Know Where Your Child Lives) would be far more menacing than images of kitties.
"Cats are easy because there are tons of cat images to choose from. It seemed like the most natural animal to use," Mundy, who does not own a cat, said.
He decided to limit his project to one million cats simply to keep from overwhelming the computers he was using. As it was, he needed the aid of the university's high performing computers to complete the website. One download on his MacBook took more than three weeks to complete.
For the record, Mundy's cat site lists 16,651 images from Florida. That's almost twice as many as Spain (9,362).
Jay Stanley -- a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union's speech, privacy and technology program -- believes Mundy's cat project is a fine starting point for talking about the personal information we share in the ever-expanding digital universe.
He described the project as "consciousness raising activism."
"I think we're living in a time where the technology is moving so quickly and people can't keep up, and they may not be aware they are exposing personal information about themselves," he said. "It might not occur to some people that a photograph would give away their location. That's an example of not understanding the way our brave new world works."
Mundy likes to ask his students which the believe is worse between Facebook and the National Security Administration when it comes to collecting and sharing our personal information. Most of the time, the government agency is considered the more evil of the two.
"I say the NSA keeps your data pretty private," Mundy said. "In terms of respect and care, they're taking better care of your data than Facebook is."
To see if your feline is featured on Mundy's site, go to iknowwhereyourcatlives.com.
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