Fancy being robbed?
An interesting site has sprung up in the last few days. Please Rob Me is a production of Forthehack, an incubator for new web ideas. The site does one thing, and does it well - it tells you who's not at home, so that you can go and rob them. That's right - rob their empty homes. But it doesn't actually want burglars to go calling, it's just trying to make a point.
The site uses popular micro-blogging site Twitter, conducting a search to find out who is posting tweets about where they are. It is focusin on Tweets from users of FourSquare, the check-in service that we blogged about a few weeks ago. FourSquare lets its users 'check in' from where ever they are, gaining points and other virtual goodies in the process. So Please Rob Me put together some code that searched for the term '4sq'. That's in the URL for 4sq.com, which FourSquare uses to post Twitter information about where people are at when they check in.
The Please Rob Me team publishes a constantly updated list of the 'check-ins' that FourSquare users choose to post to Twitter, under the heading "Recently empty homes". The point they're trying to make is that posting information about where you are online enables others to deduce that you're not at home. If I post a check-in revealing that I'm at the bar, then a thief could find my name, perform an address lookup in my town (which is likely to be the same town as the bar I'm in), and pay my empty premises a quick visit.
None of this has left FourSquare very impressed. On its blog, the company points out that most people work 9-5 jobs, meaning that thieves are likely to know when they're out anyway. But it nevertheless raises interesting questions about the geotagged information that you post online.
Here's a scenario. A creepy guy sees a woman taking a picture in the park using her mobile phone. On a hunch, he goes to the top three photosharing sites the next day, and looks for geotagged images taken in that park. Bingo. There's the picture. He sees who the owner of the account is. Suddenly, he has her name. Because she has uploaded geotagged images taken at home, he has her address. Her photos let him see inside her apartment. He uses Google Street view to see what her building looks like.
Please Rob Me may not be showing you anything more than is already publicly available in a Twitter search. FourSquare makes the point that searching for 'headed to' in Twitter reveals similar information about people on the move. But these days, even uploading a photo can be dangerous. It doesn't mean that we should be luddites. I love geotagged photos, and uploading images of where I've been to my Flickr account. But it does mean that you should be careful - and always apply a mental filter before posting anything online.
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets