The internets have had many significant impacts on our society, not the least of which seems to be a slow loosening of our grip on our own privacy. We still guard some of our personal information with a fervor, but we’re much more likely to share information about ourselves and what we’re doing on the web thanks to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And most recently, some of us have begun volunteering our locations via the social platform, Foursquare, which prompted some other snarky folks to found PleaseRobMe.com.
It’s not just a clever name. PleaseRobMe is indeed a site that aggregates all check-ins from Foursquare and other location-based services, showing them in a real time feed on the site’s main page (not sure it even has any other pages), which quips, “listing all those empty homes out there.” The idea, obviously, is that because these users are volunteering themselves at a location that is not their home, their home is vacant and ripe for robbery.
I can’t say I don’t get the concept. As a professed cynic myself, I think it’s kind of funny. But in all honesty, if the PleaseRobMe folks mean for their application to be taken any other way than tongue-in-cheek, they’re overreaching. Either way, Foursqure fired back yesterday, reassuring us all that we are indeed safe to use their service. And they made a good point, that Foursquare asks users where they want to share their location every time those users “check in” somewhere. They are free to share that info on Facebook and Twitter, but that’s their choice, AND they have control over who sees their posts on both of those platforms as well. So really, this is a user thing, not a Foursquare thing.
But there are a couple things they might have also mentioned, that I figured I’d posit here for you to ponder.
#1 is, as Gawker pointed out, checking in is absolutely not the only way to let others know when you’re not home. How about when you work from 9 – 5? Or how about when you update your Facebook status when you go on vacation? Maybe you’re uploading mobile photos taken while you’re on vacation, or even just out and about. The point is – there are a number of ways that users are already (and have been for a while) revealing that their home may currently be vacant, outside of Foursquare.
#2 – If someone really wants to rob your house, they obviously know where you live. The easiest way to know if you’re not home isn’t monitoring your Foursquare or your Twitter feed, it’s just to stake out your place and strike when they see you leave.
#3 – Even if you’re checking in from somewhere on Foursquare, that doesn’t mean someone isn’t home at your house. After all, it IS conceivable that people have spouses, children and other family members who live with them, right?
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The bottom line really is that using Foursquare itself isn’t going to increase the chances that you’ll lose all of the fun and valuable toys you have in your home.
But there is a message here. Just like with anything you put out there on the wide world of web, you have to be careful who knows what. If your Twitter account is public and you have a bunch of followers that aside from retweeting your pithy Tweets are otherwise strangers, limit your check-in activity.
I personally never send my check-ins to Twitter for that simple reason. I have the option to share them on Facebook, where I only approve friend requests from people I know personally, so I’m comfortable sharing them there, but Twitter, not so much. Yes, the main idea of checking in (besides the promise of badges!) is to let people know where you are so they can potentially meet up with you. But you can just as easily accomplish that on Facebook (where you have much more privacy control) as you can on Twitter.
Just exercise judgment and you’ll be fine.
PS – check out the Gawker link for more tips!