Please Rob Me: what’s the big panic, exactly?

Paul Raven @ 18-02-2010

Unless you’ve been sleeping under that hypothetical internet-proof rock for the last 24 hours, you’ve probably caught wind of the charmingly-named Please Rob Me, a site that aggregates publicly-available Twitter updates which announce that their creator has left their home empty while they go somewhere else. The theory here is that, by announcing you’re not at home, you’re openly inviting some nefarious evil-doer to burgle all your stuff in your absence; what a terrible indictment of geolocational status updates and public announcements of your daily comings and goings, AMIRITE?

Well, frankly, no. Even someone as poorly versed in crime literature (be it fictional or factual) as myself is aware that an experienced and/or smart burglar tends to “case the joint” carefully before doing the job. And while Please Rob Me might make it possible to know when someone’s out of the house without surveilling it from across the street, that’s its only advantage… assuming that said burglar is willing to take an internet status update as a surety, which – were I a burglar – I certainly wouldn’t do.

So, yes – Please Rob Me may be a useful way of highlighting the fact that many people who geolocate themselves publicly on the web haven’t thought about the implications of that information being publicly available (which is what its creators meant it to do, if I’ve understood their “why” page properly), but it isn’t a sign that there’ll be a sudden swarm of Twitter-combing burglary crews hitting the luxury pads of Silicon Valley high-flyers while they’re slurping up lattes downtown.

If your house is worth robbing, and if it’s being targetted by the sort of burglar who doesn’t just operate on the basis of pure opportunism, then that burglar will find a way of knowing when you’re out of the house, whether that be through watching your Twitter stream or the more old-school (not to mention tried, tested and reliable) method of keeping an eye on the place for a week or so and learning your daily routine. Public geolocation might make that easier to do at a distance, but when their freedom is at stake, I expect the more cautious burglars – the ones who are likely to get away with burgling rich people’s houses at least once, in other words – aren’t going to rely on 140 characters and a GPS tag before crowbarring your back door.

Privacy and lifelogging are important issues, but the alarmist tabloid-esque flapping over Please Rob Me is actually obscuring the important parts of those issues, not bringing them to the forefront. So let’s think things through before hitting the big red button marked ‘technophobia’, shall we?

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2 Responses to “Please Rob Me: what’s the big panic, exactly?”

  1. Sarah Ennals says:

    Yeah, the only real problem I can see with this is that should anyone involved ever get robbed in any way, *ever*, someone will say they “asked for it” because they once posted about their house being empty….

  2. Your Obedient Serpent says:

    Hell, I’m more worried about people crowbarring their way in while I AM home, moving from “burglary” to “home invasion”.