Art professor’s cat project goes viral

If you have ever posted a photo of your cat on the popular site Instagram, your favorite pet might be a part of a new project by FSU art Assistant Professor Owen Mundy called I Know Where Your Cat Lives.

News of Mundy’s project, a data visualization of 1 million public pictures of cats on a world map, went viral last week with write-ups in the New York Times, NPR and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, among others.

Mundy created the map by using public pictures of cats posted to social media by their owners and located them by using the geographical coordinates embedded in their metadata.

From the website "I Know Where Your Cat Lives," a photo of a kitty from Paris, Ile-de-France, France.
From the website “I Know Where Your Cat Lives,” a photo of a kitty from Paris, Ile-de-France, France.

“I was using Instagram to photograph my three-year-old, and one day I realized that the app had been recording and embedding the geographic coordinates in my backyard,” Mundy said. “I thought, ‘I don’t recall being asked by the app if I wanted to share this data.’ It was a creepy experience that I wanted to translate in a way that was equal parts scary and fun, but technically harmless.”

A trip to the website shows a simple Google map with a graphic of a cat on each country and the number of photos included in that country. For example, the state of Florida features 16,651 cats. The country of Spain has 9,362 cats and the South Sudan has six.

The project has raised questions about privacy and what information is really being released when social media users post what they perceive is a harmless photo to one of their accounts.

But, Mundy added that some people are not turned off by the privacy issue at all.

“I think a lot of people appreciate how tangible it makes the privacy issue because of the creepy factor, while on the other hand it offers the data in such an enjoyable way that I’ve actually had many requests from people to add their cat to the map,” he said.