When I was starting out in the newspaper business (remember that medium? he asked wistfully), I wrote a lot of obits as new reporters often do. One of the earliest warnings I remember receiving from readers was that, if you list the street address of the deceased and give the time and day of the funeral, you are alerting potential burglars to the presence of an empty house.
That’s the reason some newspapers don’t list those street addresses and it’s why families of the deceased ask a friend to watch the house while they are gone to the last rites.
I was thinking about that this morning when a segment of NBC’s Today show caught my eye and ear. It concerned yet another problem area of self-disclosing too much personal information (what I call living out loud) on Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare. The latter is the location-based social network where players use their mobile devices to report their presence at a particular spot on a map for others to see. The more you visit certain places, the more points you stack up, etc., etc.
Great. So now you not only can bore others with what you are doing; you can show them where you’re doing it.
That raise any red flags to you?
Apparently it has to a lot of thieves, according to Amy Roebuck’s report on Today wherein she profiled a young couple who permanently loaned two laptops and a digital flatscreen TV to house burglars who knew they weren’t home. And how did they know that? Because one of them, caught on a home security videocam, turned out to be a FB friend of one victim and had seen her post about where she and her hubbie were headed on – ironically – the day her house was to be burgled.
An obvious question
The obvious question is why don’t social networkers choose their FB friends more carefully if they’re going to post that kind of information. The reality is that most of us have a lot of “friends” on that site whom we don’t really know that well.
When you see users whose pages boast more than 1,000 friends, you get the idea.
One reformed burglar, 35-year-old Richard Taylor, told the British Web site, Parental Control, how thieves use Twitter and Facebook in the UK to plan break-ins.
“I’ve seen lots of people who post a status update about being excited that they’re going away to Spain,” Taylor said. “But if you have 900 Facebook friends, how many do you really know? You might recognise their name from school but do you also know all their friends who could also see your updates?
“People put all kinds of information on Facebook including their address and mobile number. A burglar just has to call your mobile and if there’s an international ring tone they know you are away. These days everyone is Twitter-mad, I use it myself. But putting information that anyone can see on the internet leaves you vulnerable to a break-in. ”
As is usually the case, where there is an issue like this occurring on social networks, there is an entire Web site or sites that are launched to address, solve, or sometimes exploit the situation. Sounding a warning against helping thieves burgle your home is one such site called, plainly enough, Please Rob Me .
What this site does – or rather used to do because it has stopped – was to stream data from Foursquare, showing how many homes are left unattended after their residents have announced their plans to be elsewhere. The tagline of the site is, “Raising awareness about over-sharing.” Apparently someone felt Please Rob Me was oversharing, too, however, and it has discontinued running those lists of unattended places.
The out-of-town crier
The site picked up the information when the Foursquare disclosures were posted by users to Twitter, making it totally available to anyone on the planet with access to the Internet.
Now the Please Rob Me home page says, “We are satisfied with the attention we’ve gotten for an issue that we deeply care about … Currently we’re looking through the emails we’ve received regarding the future of the website. As soon
as we’ve thought of a suitable way to continue, you’ll find it right here. We’re not showing the Twitter messages anymore.”
One could make a strong case that this site, which launched just last February, was exacerbating the problem caused by oversharing on the social networks. That may well be the reason it is looking to reinvent itself. But Please Rob Me did succeed in getting the attention of the mainstream media, as witnessed by this morning’s NBC broadcast segment. There is value in that.
As for me, my Facebook and Twitter messages announce that I’m always home, I never go anwhere, and my 145-pound Bullmastiff is a light sleeper on his bed just inside the back door.