Monday, May 18, 2020

How to use a beer-rating app with millions of users to track military personnel


The beer-rating app Untappd can be used to track the location history of military personnel. The social network has over eight million mostly European and North American users, and its features allow researchers to uncover sensitive information about said users at military and intelligence locations around the world.

For people in the military, neither drinking beer nor using social media is newsworthy on its own. But Untappd users log hundreds, often thousands of time-stamped location data points.


If you visit Untappd venue locations through the web rather than the app, they will list “loyal patrons,” the top 15 users that have checked in most frequently at that location. These are perfect candidates to piggyback on, as they are both likely to have a strong connection to that location, and be active users that will be checking in elsewhere as well. This allows us to map connections between locations.

For example, by examining users that are “loyal patrons” of Dutch military locations (light blue) and identifying the other military locations (red) they have visited, we can begin to map out possible Dutch military connections across the globe, including locations of military exercises and missions


By comparing the location history of several different users, it also becomes possible to identify non-military locations that they have in common.