While there has been a lot of debate about the ethics of the new social aggregating site Please Rob Me, it has at the very least shined a glaring light on some of the potential safety issues around location based media.
The concept is that the site takes Foursquare information published to Twitter, and if the location is anything other than “home”, it rewords the message to suggest now would be a good time to rob that person’s home. Of course the site is not actually encouraging someone to break into your home, but it is trying to tell all of us rather bluntly, “hey, perhaps you shouldn’t be so free with the details of your life.”
The site has been extremely controversial in its very short life with Twitter pulling the account associated with it, and Foursquare going on the defensive about its data being used in this way. The problem is, there is at least one known case of Twitter updates leading to a robbery back in May 2009, and that was just from standard Twitter updates as opposed to constant updates on a person’s location. Many of the critics have viewed it as an invasion of user privacy, however I would remind you the site is simply pulling the information from public Twitter feeds; in other words, you published it to the Web for anyone to see to begin with.
When you look at a site such as Blippy that encourages you to share credit card transactions with your social friends, which can also include ATM withdrawal information, and you do have to wonder if we are just asking for trouble. Make an ATM withdrawal of say $200, check in to some location on Foursquare immediately after that, and hey, everyone in the bar you just walked into could know how much cash you have on you. True, as Gawker suggested, anyone who knows you have a job has a pretty good idea of when you aren’t home, but there is a large difference between being at work during the day, and out at a bar at night.
There is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy social media, but perhaps we should just be a bit more thoughtful in the information we share, and when and where we choose to share it. While many people have decried the launch of Please Rob Me, I applaud it for something I think more people need to be made aware of. And while it’s true I have admitted to playing Foursquare on this very site, believe me, I wouldn’t be playing it if I didn’t have some safety precautions in place, such as I don’t always check in when I leave the house if no one else is at home at that time.
So, what do you think, have we gone too far with how much information we share with the world?