There’s a new website that’s been getting quite a bit of press lately. It’s called “Please Rob Me,” and it scans Twitter updates for people who have indicated that they are somewhere other than at home. The idea isn’t to enable thieves, but to highlight the carelessness of letting everyone know where you are every minute of the day.
I remember when location-aware applications were first taking off this caused me some concerns. In 2006 I came across Tim Hibbard, a programmer who had written his own routine to update his location constantly on his blog using the GPS in his Blackberry. Given such a constant data stream it should have been a no-brainer to figure out where he lived and when he wasn’t there.
Fast forward a few years and we now have applications like Google Latitude, BrightKite, and FourSquare which allow users to check-in with their GPS-enabled smart phones. Most of these services offer privacy settings so that the whole world doesn’t know your exact location, and all are user-activated so that there isn’t a constant tracking of your movements. You only check-in when you want to.
The idea behind these is that you would be able to see if your friends are nearby and could meet up with them. However, I’ve not seen that work very well. If I’m going to meet someone I usually call and confirm, or use some other communication method. I don’t rely on GPS enabled phones to happen upon someone. I guess if you had enough of your friends on the same service it would work. However, I rarely check in with Google Latitude, so it’s still showing me at my last location somewhere in Columbia. Potential burglars might be surprised if they are relying on my updates.
In reality, you don’t need a GPS-enabled smart phone to tip off potential burglars. While it might help in finding the exact location of your house, all a thief really needs is a status update that reads something like, “I can’t wait until I’m on vacation in the Bahamas next week!” While that’s OK, just make sure you don’t provide them with enough personal information to take advantage of that tidbit.