Obscured Location not Obscuring Location!

Please fill out the following sections to the best of your ability, it will help us investigate bugs if we have this information at the outset. Screenshots are especially helpful, so please provide those if you can.

Platform (Android, iOS, Website): Website, possibly others.

App version number, if a mobile app issue (shown under Settings or About):

Browser, if a website issue (Firefox, Chrome, etc) : Firefox

URLs (aka web addresses) of any relevant observations or pages: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&user_id=jonathancampbell&verifiable=any

Screenshots of what you are seeing (instructions for taking a screenshot on computers and mobile devices: https://www.take-a-screenshot.org/): Not keen to share, as will become apparent why below!

Description of problem (please provide a set of steps we can use to replicate the issue, and make as many as you need.):

Step 1: I set all of the observations around my home to ‘Obscured’ as it occured to me that it’s a huge security risk to be flagging not just where you live (with the massive cluster of observations there) but also when you are away from home (using iNaturalist to tag organisms in other locations).

Step 2: Checked that all of the observations say ‘Scotland, UK’ instead of my home location.

Step 3: Went to a Private Browser so I wouldn’t be logged on.

Step 4: Went to my observations (see link above)

Step 5: Zoomed in on my house to find the cluster of observations was still there and just as easily viewable as before.

I think this must be a bug, as I can’t imagine you should be able to see exactly where an obscured location is on the map. I imagine that obscuring makes the possible radius really wide, but it seems like it has left the pin in the centre of that radius - which is really unhelpful, as that centre is it’s correct location!!



Interesting. It does look like a bug. On the map from your link I can see one cluster of observations that looks like a residential address. If I click on any of the pins, the location on the individual observation pages is actually obscured. Just the explore map shows all the pins at presumably their actual locations. Interestingly I can’t seem to click on the pins if I zoom in too much. Zooming out a bit lets me select them just fine though.

yes it looks like it was just a caching effect, now all the observations are properly obscured

it looks like you made the change relatively recently. maybe give it a couple of hours before you start to worry. it may take some time for changes to propagate throughout the system. right now, there are only certain zoom levels in the Explore map where i see clusters of observations. so check again in a couple of hours, and see if you still notice problems then…

EDIT: i don’t see the cluster any more. if you still see it, try clearing your browser’s cache or do a hard refresh of the page by pressing CTRL+F5.

also, i’ve noted this in other threads many times, but if you’re really that concerned about sharing your locations, you really should consider not posting the observation at all as a primary option, rather than posting the observation and then obscuring the location or making the location private.

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I’ve noticed this bug as well. When an observation is set to ‘obscured’, iNaturalist should invalidate the caches of all the relevant map tiles rather than just letting them expire (or use shorter cache times, but that may have performance implications).

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Just a comment: I always assume that the obscuring function can be broken, so for really sensitive stuff, I try to build in another layer of security by setting the location marker on a “neutral” location nearby (e.g. road intersection, parking lot of a local business) and using an accuracy circle. That should make it harder to pinpoint the exact location even if unobscured by some sort of bug/hacking attempt.

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In order to challenge the obfuscation algorithm, I attempted to collect a more precise location information from what is displayed on the map for these observations, assuming that all these observations are at the same real location.

I searched for the northernmost, southernmost, westernmost and easternmost obscured locations (as displayed after obfuscation):

Northernmost (obscured) location:

Southernmost (obscured) location:

Westernmost (obscured) location:

Easternmost (obscured) location:

These 4 observations are displayed as follow on the map:

Because the rectangle displayed is always the same, I can only guess that the real location is within this rectangle. I guess that the obfuscation algorithm simply assigns a random obscured location within this same rectangle to each observation made at the same real location. I conclude that, in the present case, I cannot collect more precise information about the real location than the rectangle displayed (always the same rectangle).

However, I would hypothesize that in a few similar cases It could be possible to collect more information. Imagine that we don’t get always the same rectangle, but 2 adjacent rectangles instead. In that case, we would assume that the real location is very close to the edge common to the 2 rectangles, which would be a much more precise information than the area of a rectangle.

In the worst case (but very unlikely), I would hypothesize that we would get 4 rectangles with a common vertex, and in that case we would assume that the real location is very close to this common vertex.

When I travel, I post all my observations only when I am back home.

I do this for several reasons:

  • I don’t use the smartphone application to post observations.
  • I take more photos in order to chose later the less blurred one. (Easier done at home with a computer).
  • I organize my photos as described here.

I guess that posting all my observations from home makes more difficult for a thief to guess when I am not at home and to guess when I might be back.

I never tried to hide where I live. It’s precisely shown in this observation …but I am moving to another region and all my furniture has already been moved.