This post is originally authored at the home security blog at family + home security.
Today’s society relies heavily on social networking tools for everything from friendly communication to building business relationships. In a world of instant status updates, 140 character Tweets and “Facebook Friends”, it’s easy to forget about the amount of personal information that we reveal each day. Most people like to post a schedule of their daily activities, ranging from what they ate for breakfast, to when they’re meeting friends for dinner downtown.
An interesting website, titled “Please Rob Me” seeks to expose how vulnerable this information can make us to potential burglars. It tracks “check-ins”, which are updates posted by people when they’re visiting a specific location. Through the site, you can view a near real-time stream of these updates as they’re posted on Twitter. Location sharing has rapidly been increasing in popularity, especially due to services such as Loopt, Foursquare and Google Buzz. There’s something incredibly addictive about sharing your daily activities with social networks, especially when your progress is tracked by an achievement system, such as the “Badges” you can earn from using Foursquare.
With the obvious implications of their website’s name, the creators of “Please Rob Me” are not malicious people who seek to punish these location-sharing individuals. However, their site does expose an important vulnerability in the concept of location sharing. If you are constantly telling the world when you’re not at home, this may seem like an open invitation to potential burglars. Even if you’re tweeting that you’re “Downtown at a local coffee shop for the next 4 hours”, this information can be enough for someone to plan, implement and execute the burglary of your home.
The site is targeted to sound like it is written for thieves, with new away-from-home updates being called “new opportunities”. While this may be worrying for some people, the site’s owners clearly state on every page:
Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burglarized.
In retrospect, it’s extremely easy to forget about our home’s security while engaging in behavior that is commonplace on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Even if you don’t directly share your location, it’s very common for friends or family members to share when you’re visiting or spending time out with them. Consider how common it is to tweet or post something like, “Spending time out with @(Insert Twitter Name) at the Hard Rock Cafe!” or “Visiting my family for the weekend”. Though we may not see it this way, these types of updates are blatant advertising that lets everyone know that you’re not currently watching your place of residence.
The site “Please Rob Me” is important for helping us to realize this vulnerability, and letting us know how much information we really share with our online “friends”. Though the site itself is somewhat limited in its actual usefulness, the concept behind it shouldn’t be ignored. The next time you want to tweet about your night out, or check in your location via Foursquare, consider who you’re actually sharing this information with. A bit of caution on your part could prevent your absence from being an excuse for a burglary.