Planning a Robbery from the Couch

28 02 2011

Today I took twenty minutes out of my time to plan a burglary – over the Internet. I identified an empty residence and Google even gave me directions to it.

After writing an article highlighting the dangers of location sharing over the Internet, I was challenged to prove my theory. I attempted to find a user that had checked into their own home via Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, however I soon found a lot more.

1) I first had to find a social media user that had been sharing their location, but was unconnected to me. Difficult? No.

I Google searched ‘Facebook Places‘ and entered the Facebook Places group on Facebook.

From there I could not view who had liked the page, so instead I viewed those that had interacted with the page and picked the first Irish looking name I saw. I wouldn’t want to have to commute too far for work after all.

2) I found that the target’s Facebook was set to private. To view the profile I created a false Facebook account promoting discount deals in Ireland and added the target. Less than fifteen minutes later my request was accepted. Too easy.

3) I scrolled through their page to see if they had checked in at home. Bingo, GPS coordinates with a pin over the house! Fouraquare even offered directions, how kind.

Sensitive information has been blurred for privacy

The target had checked into both Facebook Places and Foursquare. This enabled me to compare both sets of coordinates and ensure that I was targeting the correct home. Using Google Street View I viewed the house and the cars parked outside.  Shocked? Read on.

Pin on the map displaying which house to target

4) I then searched their Facebook and Twitter for an indication of any valuables contained in the house. I also searched 123 People to save time. From various status updates I found that they owned an i-phone and a new Macbook. I even found out where the target tends to leave their car keys.

5) Before I waited until the target had checked in outside the home, I had to first ensure that they were the sole resident. As the target had listed their phone details I first considered ringing the target and posing as a ‘survey for cash’ worker who would ask the key question; ‘How many people occupy your residence’. A harmless question surely?

However, the target again made it too easy for me by posting a status update about ‘living on their own’.

6) I Google mapped the house once more and even used Google Street View to gain a 360 degree view of the target’s house.

360 degree view of the target’s house

7) Finally, I viewed their ‘work’ check ins and quickly figured out their work roster and when they were out of the house.

Did I rob the house? Of course not. However, within twenty minutes I had all of the necessary information to commit the crime – without getting off my chair!

This raises the question, who’s responsibility is it to ensure our safety is protected online? Is it Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare’s responsibility to educate the user? Is it the Government’s responsibility? Or does it just come down to the user and common sense?

If this isn’t addressed soon, could we see the realization of this blog? Criminals stalking victim’s online while they wait until a residence is empty?

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The Internet: A burglar’s best friend

25 02 2011

With the recent major increase in smartphone applications, such as Foursquare, potential burglars can now monitor your activities from the comfort of their own couch.

With the development of Web 2.0, information sharing has become a societal norm, as people no longer think twice about sharing their location with others. But has this become a burglar’s best friend? Have we put our safety in jeopardy? And are we advertising our vacant residence?

Through Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter (to name a few) we are checking into locations, gaining badges and interacting with our friends. While location sharing may seem to be the way the world is moving, we must also be careful to consider the ethical considerations behind this.

For this reason location based sharing has come under heavy fire in recent times. Websites, such as, aim to highlight the dangers of location based sharing.

As users are often trying to build their following on Twitter, they often leave their profiles on public. Therefore, anyone can instantly see their ‘Tweets’. Once a person Tweets their location, this is public information. So what is to stop a potential burglar following a family’s Twitter accounts and simply waiting for an opportunity in which the family share their location? Or perhaps a burglar may prefer to track a person living on their own?

Lets take an example from Facebook and or Foursquare . Whether or not we choose to admit it, most of us aim to maximize our friends on Facebook so as we can convince ourselves that we have over 500 friends. This is why, when a nightclub or event adds us, we often accept. While we are so caught up in our privacy settings on Facebook and other social networks, we often forget the golden rule – don’t accept strangers.

With the increase in location sharing we are making a burglars job easier than ever before. We ensure that the alarm is set, the door is locked and the lights are left on; and then we check in at the airport. What is the point in sophisticated alarms that contact the police once activated when we contact the burglars and let them know that we are heading out?

This location sharing phenomenon is not going to go away, in fact it is only going to increase with the emergence of Web 3.0 and new technologies. Therefore instead of trying to tackle the issue we must embrace it. Check in, unlock new badges and share with your friends – just your friends. But why do I encourage this? Because if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. The internet is connecting users like never before and we must be prepared for this.

However, the main things to take into considerations when checking in are; check into your area and not your address! Once you or your friends check in at your exact address this information is available online! And of course – don’t accept people you don’t know!

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