In case it wasn't yet obvious, I'm quite interested in issues of location-sharing and privacy. Well it seems I'm not the only one. 22 year old Dutch computer science student Frank Groeneveld, along with a couple of friends, recently launched the site PleaseRobMe.com, which presents a cheeky take on the issue of location and privacy. Essentially the site calls the Twitter and Foursquare APIs to publish people's location updates from those services. And, true to the site's name, it editorializes these updates by suggesting that, since the user is checking in on these services, they are clearly not home at the moment. Status updates on PleaseRobMe.com look like, "Jane Doe left home and checked in 10 minutes ago."
While a would-be burglar would still need to know the user's home address to take advantage of this information, I think Please Rob Me really hammers the point home: sharing your location publicly is not the same as sharing some photos on Facebook.
The solution to this, as I've said before, needs to be within these services themselves. There needs to be more granularity in the privacy settings, and defaults must be set such that users have to "opt-in" to public sharing.
Foursquare has posted a reasonable response to this brouhaha on their blog. I think for the most part Foursquare gets the privacy stuff right. And I give them credit for acting swiftly to publish their response.
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- Please Rob Me: The Dangers of Online Oversharing (time.com)
- 'Rob me' site reveals empty homes (news.bbc.co.uk)
- PleaseRobMe.com: Robbers using social media to see when you're not home (network.nationalpost.com)
- Website Targets Morans Who Constantly Tweet Their Whereabouts....Please Rob Me (dvorak.org)