The Yik Yak app seems to put more danger for its users than it wants. A researcher has published his findings on how the anonymous app reveals a user’s location.
The scary part? It seems to be too precise for comfort.
What is Yik Yak anyway?
For the casual, Yik Yak is a form of anonymous social media that has grown in popularity, especially on the campuses of educational institutions.
It first appeared on the market in 2013. These claims have been circulating ever since the app was released. Due to allegations of threats of violence and intimidation, the company stopped allowing access to middle and high school students in 2014.
Following allegations that it served as a place to harass and cyberbully students and spread bomb threat messages, the app was taken permanently offline in 2017.
The anonymous app made a comeback the year before, although my colleague Gita Jackson pointed out at the time that it was a comeback no one really asked for.
Location data of Yik Yak
YikYak is an anonymous messaging app that allows users to see other users’ posts within a five-mile radius of their location. Emojis and colors are assigned to each user so that they can be easily distinguished from each other. However, users have the ability to reset these attributes at any time.
Additionally, the app allows users to continue conversations in comment sections, which are places where users can interact with each other. However, it has been reported by David Teatera Madison, Wisconsin-based computer science student that the app can discover users’ precise locations as well as their individual IDs.
Teather discovered that users’ exact locations and unique IDs could be found with the Yik Yak app. Data collected from YikYak resulted in accurate GPS coordinates within 10-15 feet of the origin of posts and comments. He says he informed the company of his findings in April.
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The danger of the YikYak
In a social application like YikYak, it is known that location data usually does not cause harm to its users. However, this becomes a problem when precise GPS coordinates are made available to the client while user credentials are also exposed. Having this information too specific can anonymize users, easily expose their identity, and make their home address or current location accessible to everyone.
This can be a difficult vulnerability because the flaw can be used by malicious actors to spy on users or break into someone’s residence while they’re away.
Although a single GPS location can link a user to a single address, the possibility of de-anonymization is a significant concern in low-density rural areas with isolated single-family homes more than 10-15 feet apart.
According to The edgeTeather said: “Because user IDs are persistent, it is possible to determine a user’s daily routine, i.e. when and from where they post YikYaks, this can be used to discover the daily routine of a particular YikYak user.”
The most recent version of the Yik Yak app does not provide precise locations or user IDs. Teather, on the other hand, says he can still get this information using older versions of the software.
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