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8 August 2012

Instagram + GPS = Cities, Now

A new site shows the beauty of cities around the world. But it also reminds us of the redefinition of privacy

By Alex Hern

A new site, This is Now, takes photographs from Instagram which are tagged with GPS data, and uses them to show you what is happening in nine cities around the world right now. So Las Vegas is full of drunk people:

Sydney is full of delightful dinners in the evening sun:

And London, inevitably, is all Olympics, all the time:

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Two points come to mind. Firstly, this is beautiful. Everyone knows that different cities have different characters, and that that character changes radically throughout the day, but it’s hard to demonstrate that short of actually living somewhere. Being able to view the stream of photos posted to instagram really does make those personalities clear, and because its pictures rather than text, it does so in a format you can actually absorb and engage with, rather that being overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data in front of you.

But secondly, how many of these people actually knew that we’d all be seeing their photos when they posted them? Not that there are – as yet – any particularly embarrasing pictures on the streams, at least none that I’ve seen. But there are people with very few followers who nonetheless ping up, and who can’t have expected that people they would never meet will be looking at their holiday snaps from the Olympics. It’s a stark reminder that unless something is explicitly private on the internet, it’s public.

It doesn’t matter if you have no followers on Instagram, if the URL of your blog is only shared with a few family members, or if your flickr account is only used for hosting images for forums: that stuff is public, and you should assume that people you don’t know will see it. In fact, you should assume that people you do know, but don’t want to see it, will see it. Privacy is not the default, but the exception. This is the way of the world, now.

In this case, at least, we’ve traded privacy for beauty. Was it worth it?