Please Rob Me, Much Ado About Nothing, But…

The big “story” this week has been the website Please Rob Me, which used some basic twitter searches for FourSquare check-in’s to try and convince people that posting where they are meant that anyone would know when they weren’t home. As if there weren’t a hundred easier ways to target someone and know when they weren’t home.

So no, I’m not overly impressed with what they did, but then again they did start a conversation, so maybe that is a good thing. The security aspect is probably overblown, as has been pointed out by many people, but the privacy implications are definitely worth a deeper discussion. Let’s take a couple of hypotheticals that I fully expect we’ll see in the news in the coming months:

1. Man tells spouse he’s going to sports bar “with some guys from the office”. Checks-in at bar, tweets his location. Hot chick from his office also checks in at the bar. None of his male coworkers who also use the service check-in from the bar, in fact, some check in from other locations. Busted.

2. Someone up for promotion, or job, that would mean possibly working long hours, and travel, checks-in from oncology appointment. Doesn’t get promotion due to inferred medical condition that would limit their ability to do said job. (Whether it’s actually true or not is irrelevant in this case, the check-in was enough to cause doubt, throwing the decision in favor of the perceived safer candidate.)

3. Attorney who specializes in corporate mergers frequently checks-in from Starbucks across the street from the main headquarters of a publicly traded company. Attentive followers buy up stock in anticipation of company being bought.

4. Relatively new user, who doesn’t realize check-ins are being publicly tweeted as opposed to only being shared in geolocation service, is stalked/harassed because they checked in from their home address.

There are, literally, a thousand ways that someone can infer details of your life based on where you check-in from, especially when you check in from doctor appointments, political events, churches, etc. Many people go out of their way, either for personal reasons or because the nature of their jobs require it, to not post about religious or political beliefs publicly, or to talk about who their clients are, etc. but leave enough details in their public locations that would allow others to make inferences just the same. I’m sure you can come up with your own examples of how location information can be used, or misused, to your own detriment. Those are the real threats posed by geolocation services, and the things that users should be thinking long and hard about before checking in from everywhere. It may be relatively harmless to check-in at a restaurant, or coffee shop. It may not be harmless to check-in from anywhere that would be sharing personal information.

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