Social Networking – Too Much Information?

High speed internet access has made it much easier for people to do their work and become more productive, even allowing many people to work remotely from home. As a matter of fact, many people have jobs that wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the internet. I’m not talking about hackers or phishers here. Let’s look at a much older profession that has become much easier now.

How about breaking and entering? In the old days, it took considerable time and effort to “case the joint”, watch the neighborhood and plan the dirty deed. Since thieves don’t want to be confronted they avoid observation as best they can – they just want to get in and out with your stuff as quickly as possible. They would try to learn the habits of the people living in the house, watching their comings and goings over a period of time as well as watch their neighbor’s activities. They would look through peoples trash and discards to see what high ticket items may have been purchased or replaced recently. They may even pretend to be repair people or door to door salesmen (or women) just to get a look inside the house. All of the above are very labor intensive activities.

The internet has made a burglars job much easier. Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and even Twitter provide much higher quality surveillance info then any of the “old fashioned” methods because millions of people think nothing of posting their “personal information” for all to see.

I have many “Facebook Friends” as well as an active Twitter following and I am amazed at how many people post information that’s perfect for a thief. Info such as, “I’m heading for the airport to attend a conference in Nashville” (label me guilty on this one) or “Hey – we just landed in the Bahamas and the weather is BEAUTIFUL” or – “TGIF, we’re heading out for a weekend in New Hampshire with the family”. People even post that their “stuck at work and their better half is out of town until tomorrow” – or – “we just got a brand new 60” HD TV, or a brand new laptop for the kids” – all seemingly innocent conversations until you think about the possible ramifications.

Today’s thieves can literally “shop online” – there’s no need for them to try and guess, based on the outside of your house, what goodies might be inside. Last May, an Arizona man tweeted that he was going out of town and his home was promptly burglarized. Computer equipment worth thousands of dollars was stolen:

For today’s thief to monitor the comings and goings of everyone in a particular neighborhood could take a lot of time. Technology to the rescue again, any potential crook can just go to a helpful web site and find “new opportunities” – posts gathered and aggregated from Twitter indicating that people are not at home. Here’s an article from CNet about this. This website has stopped providing its information but who’s to say there’s not another “under cover” site doing the same thing right now.

Even if you’re careful about not revealing your location in your social media posts, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. Location-aware applications are becoming more and more popular, especially for smart phones and some laptops that have built-in GPS chips.  This means software programs can access the information from the GPS hardware and know where you’re located (or more precisely, where your cell phone or laptop is located). These location based awareness applications can be used by program developers for many purposes. Twittelator, for the iPhone, can automatically send your location to your followers letting them know where you are so you can get together when you’re all in the same area. Fun but potentially very dangerous.

Google Buzz is a free service that integrates with your Gmail account and mobile device. available for the iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android and Symbian phones. According to the Google folks: “Google Buzz allows you to post buzz and keep up with your friends when you’re away from your computer. It also uses your location to identify places around you. You can select one of these places and attach it as location tag to your posts, or read what others have posted about the place.

Not all location based services are bad – one of the “good applications” based on cell phone location based services is  that it can provide emergency personnel  information on your location in an actual emergency. A very good thing!

Sure, all of these social media applications and services can be fun to use, but it’s important to think about the downside of constantly having your whereabouts broadcast. When it comes to social media and posting personal stuff for all your BFF’s, it’s wise to remember the acronym TMI (Too Much Information). Your BFF’s aren’t the only ones who have access to your posts.

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