Are you one of those people who “checks in” wherever you go on Facebook? Are you the “mayor” of your favorite restaurant on Foursquare? Do you keep your network apprised of your every move on Twitter? Location-based apps are certainly popular on social media these days and letting your network know where you’re going and what you’re doing there, as well as “tagging” those who are with you, is as simple as a few clicks. How many posts have we read recently about how millennials love to share everything on social media? Status updates and pictures aren’t enough. We must let everyone know where we are and who we’re with at all times. As I’ve watched this activity grow in popularity, my concern continues to grow as well.
Despite the fact that this is a career-related blog, there’s one career that probably doesn’t get much coverage on this site – that of a criminal. If I decided to change careers and begin a life of crime, Foursquare would be my best friend, with Facebook and Twitter being a close second and third. What better gift could be given to a thief than a website that tells when people are away from their homes, and the distance they must travel to return?
In this age of social media and the convenience with which we share personal information with our networks, I’ve noticed a complacency with sharing that which may have caused concern just a few years ago. According to The Independent, in the UK, criminal activity linked to Facebook and Twitter has increased 780 percent since 2008.
In a recent Foursquare post, the website states that access to user information is limited to select universes of friends, and cautions users from cross-posting their status updates to more easily searchable sites such as Twitter. They go on to say:
We definitely ‘get’ the larger issue here – location is sensitive data and people should be careful about with whom and when they share it.
According to the California attorney general’s office:
We are seeing issues arising from websites, not only with reference to criminal acts against property, but also [gathering] intelligence about people.
Recent statistics by InstantCheckmate.com reveal that 78 percent of burglars have admitted they use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google Street View to select victims’ properties, and 54 percent said that posting one’s whereabouts is the most common mistake made by homeowners. In 2008 and 2009, a group of seven young adults now known as the Bling Ring committed a series of burglaries of celebrity homes in Hollywood, California, during which they stole around $3 million in cash and belongings. After being caught, the thieves admitted they targeted specific celebrities, then researched their travel schedules using Facebook and Twitter to determine when they would be out of town.
A new website called PleaseRobMe.com is raising awareness about over-sharing on social media. The site states, “The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not…home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home. The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz, etc.” According to Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “There are physical and economic safety risks when you’re publicizing to the world where you are. It’s obviously a treasure trove of information for criminals. PleaseRobMe is a good demonstration of how easy it is.”
In an article featured on NPR.org, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, refers to the trend as the 21st-century equivalent of reading the obituaries. In the past, burglars have been known to read obituaries to find out when funerals are taking place, knowing that the homes of family and friends will be left unoccupied. But new technology brings new opportunity. Regarding location-based posting, Bankston states, “Like any useful tool, the bad ends to which it could be put is limited only by the human imagination.”
So how would you rate your geolocational behavior? Do you err on the safe side, or do you broadcast your every move like an amateur chess player? I can see this posing an interesting dilemma for those who travel frequently for business, especially to highly publicized events. I’ve noticed just within the past few weeks several of my social media contacts in the recruiting and HR industries announcing their travel plans to various conferences around the globe. Have you ever had difficulty reconciling self-promotion with preserving home safety and privacy? I’d be interested to know your experiences…