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Society - Written by on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 16:20 - 3 Comments

Jeff DeChambeau
The dangers of GeoTweeting: PleaseRobMe.com

Last summer, while on vacation, a blogger tweeted about being away from home–tweets that he believed led to burglars breaking into his house and robbing him while on his vacation. While there was never any conclusive evidence that he was targeted based on the tweet, it remains an amusing theory, and the basis for a new mashup website, PleaseRobMe.com. The website mashes up past and present tweets and other geolocated information to determine if a current user is at home or not–and by extension, if their home is a good burglary target–in an effort to “raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc.”

While the site shows where people are now, not where their homes are, clever criminals could scan for location-updating users and filter their results by context. “Drinking wine by the fireplace” is likely something said at home, as is “at my home office doing some work.” With a base-collection of tweets like those tied to geotagged locations, a criminal could easily create a database that maps who is away from home right now, how far away they are, and in the case of fervent tweeters, what speed and direction they’re traveling in. By putting all of this information on a map, and filtering to see only people who are on vacation, enterprising burglars could plot an optimized route through a neighborhood going after only the houses that are currently empty. Pretty great risk-mitigation strategy for criminals!

At the footer of each page on the PleaseRobMe site is the friendly explanation that “[its] intention is not, and never has been, to have people burglarized.” I believe them completely, but their point is well made. Technologies like geolocation and status updates might appear simple, but they’re part of a complex and elaborately tracked ecosystem of technology, one that’s not easily understood or teased apart into core pieces. Hopefully PleaseRobMe catches some attention and brings to light that showing whether or not you’re a candidate for burglary or not is a possible consequence of not carefully using modern social technology. I wish the PleaseRobMe team luck, as the lesson is much better learned here and now than later when even more sensitive information is accidentally or carelessly shared, and the stakes rise further.


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Feb 17, 2010 16:37

Perhaps you know something about the methods and demographics of burglary that I don’t, but just how many burglars or even would-be burglars have the level of sophistication and planning that you describe? Burglary in practice is, as far as I know, a fairly spontaneous crime of opportunity favored by non-confrontational drug-addicts, at least in the US.

In fact, while the phrase “clever criminals” may not always be an oxymoron, it gets close to being one for burglary.

Isn’t simply having a job a better predictor of your being-at-home than anything you may happen to post on a geo-aware platform? Easier to find a neighborhood of doctors or lawyers, if you’re actually being enterprising enough as a “clever” burglar to leave your own neighborhood. The kind of patterns of being out of the house tracked by Twitter are generally less predictable – you could come home from a night on the time at any time, but you’re probably not coming back from the office until 6 or later.

Ultimately, the whole project strikes me as fear-mongering at its worst. Even though crime hasn’t been as low as it is in decades, the fear of it is still very high.

Enterprise 2.0 — The dangers of GeoTweeting: PleaseRobMe.com
Feb 17, 2010 17:30

[...] dangers of GeoTweeting: PleaseRobMe.com Read original… AKPC_IDS += [...]

Feb 26, 2010 7:54

Dude in México criminals do track people to rob them or kidnap. It is very dangerous to publish
if u aré on vacation or bought a new car. Don’t underestimate the sophistication of criminals

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