For millions across the globe, the idiosyncratic practice of updating one’s status on Facebook or Twitter has become a ubiquitous component of everyday life. We want our friends to know what we’re up to and we, in turn, are interested in what they’re doing. Going to Orange County next week for vacation? Let us know! We may want mouse ears with our name stitched on them. Off to the new martini bar that just opened in the cool part of town? Tell your friends! They might want to meet up with you there.
On the surface, updates about our whereabouts seem like fairly innocuous tidbits about our lives. But their crux is the same across the board: You’re announcing, “I’m not home.”
To serve as a reminder (or more aptly a wakeup call) about how much one actually divulges when posting about specific whereabouts, the Web site PleaseRobMe.com was launched last month. Compiling Twitter updates logged through location-sharing sites such as Foursquare, the site automatically captures posts and assembles them chronologically into a lengthy register referred to as “Recent Empty Homes.”
USER: “I’m at NCsoft West (1501 4th Ave, Floor 20, Seattle).”
USER: “I’m at Apple Store (3710 Route 9 South, Freehold).”
USER: “I’m at Starbucks - Marina/Chestnut (2132 Chestnut St, at Scott, San Francisco).”
Most savvy users only share their whereabouts from location-sharing sites with an approved list of friends. However, there are scores of others who post these updates directly to their Twitter profiles that are often viewable to the world.
This is not to say the popularity of sites like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt have created a rash of burglaries. The FBI’s cyber division reports it has yet to be made aware of a single home break-in case stemming from a person sharing their location in cyberspace. Still, at least one Twitter user believes his messages led to a home burglary.
Regardless, the overlying theme of PleaseRobMe.com remains important.
As information is shared at an increasingly explosive rate in venues across the Internet, it is easy to get lulled into a sense of security. While you may consider yourself cognizant about what you are saying online and to whom, your brief message can still be telling someone you do not know something you do not want.
As Attorney General Rob McKenna told MSNBC, “It’s very easy to find people, even with unlisted phone numbers. And you should not assume that just because you use some kind of alias on your Twitter account that someone won’t be able to figure out who you are and where you live.”
So take an extra moment before clicking "Share"; your friends will still be jealous you’re on your way to a Lady Gaga show.
-- Darius Schwarz, AGO Public Affairs Intern
[BLOG MODERATOR'S NOTE: This is the first All Consuming post by our new Public Affairs Intern, Darius Schwarz. I admire his wit but think I'd lose playing Scrabble with him. "Ubiquitous," a fancy word for "existing everywhere," reportedly has a point value of 21 and can easily hit a double word score, if you can pull it off. -- Kristin]