Asking to be robbed? Don’t be ridiculous.

February 17th, 2010 → 5:00 pm @ // 98 Comments

Pit Bulls...don't use social media

Pit Bulls...don't use social media.

A new website called Please Rob Me launched today.  The takeaway is that those who use location-based services (internet based tools that publish your location) are essentially “asking to be robbed.”

The internet is abuzz with hype about the site, but it’s all overblown.  As a Cincinnati private investigator, I can tell you with the utmost confidence that using a location-based service such as Foursquare, Gowalla or any number of upcoming location-based mobile games does not substantially increase a person’s risk any more than crossing the street makes one more vulnerable to being hit by a car.  Could it happen?  Sure.  But the odds argue overwhelmingly against it.

So-called personal security experts (who are in the business of demonstrating a need for their services) continue to point to the increase in crimes that are connected to the use of social media services like Facebook and Twitter, where, for example, a victim publishes a status update saying he or she is leaving town for a week, and later came home to find they’d been robbed.

But objective statisticians would be quick to point out that while such instances are increasing, so, too, is the use of social media.  One could just as easily argue that lottery winners who use Facebook are also on the increase.  That doesn’t mean using Facebook makes a person more likely to win the lottery.   The same thing could be said of cars and crashes.  It goes without saying that as traffic increases, so, too, will traffic accidents increase.  But that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to drive a car.

I’ve yet to see any actual data about the percentage of people who use social services versus the percentage of those same people who were victimized because of their use of those services.  My guess is that the “social media crime rate” is about the same as any other crime rate.  But until we have data to back it up, nobody can say for sure – and that’s my point.

The Please Rob Me website goes a step beyond simple social media, though.  With Facebook and Twitter, one has to purposely disclose location data.  But with location based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, that’s the very point.  Please Rob Me makes the case that broadcasting your location is evidence that the user isn’t home, and thus the house is empty and waiting to be robbed.

That would be a false assumption.  A 100-pound Pit Bull doesn’t use location based services.  For that matter, neither does Mrs. White, who packs a 9mm Glock in an undisclosed location.  Would-be robbers and other criminals would be utterly foolish to depend entirely on location-based services and/or social media to pick their victims.

And they don’t.

Real bad guys use a full range of tools, and social media and location based services are, at most, just one of many tools they could try to use against you (assuming they have access to your profile – but that’s the subject of another post).  The real question is whether or not the social and entertainment value of services like FourSquare, Twitter and Facebook are greater than the tiny additional amount of risk one assumes when using those services.

Judging from the hundreds of millions of users of these services, it’s safe to say that their value far exceeds the tiny additional risk.

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