To some, it's just another social networking tool for keeping tabs of friends and learning about cool places to go. To others, it screams, "I'm not home, so please rob me!"
Now, thanks to a Web site not-so-coincidentally titled Please Rob Me (www.pleaserobme.com), people who choose to post their whereabouts publicly via a network called Foursquare are finding their homes being labeled as burglary-ready.The site's creators say the goal is to raise awareness and to prevent burglaries by encouraging people to be more judicious about what they post online. But some metro Detroiters say it's going too far.
"I completely realize that little information on the Internet is actually private," Andrew Leggat, 28, a Troy resident and Foursquare user, who responded by e-mail to a Free Press query via Twitter, "but I think this takes it to another level."
For those unfamiliar or social media novices, here's how it works:
Foursquare is a social network that's also a game. Users let their phones' GPS capabilities track them in real time and tell their other Foursquare friends where they are. People earn badges and mayorships based on what types of places they go to and how often they go.
People on Foursquare can choose to link their whereabouts to another social network, such as Twitter -- which many people leave on an unrestricted setting -- meaning that anyone can choose to read their postings.
So, when Pleasant Ridge resident Nikki Stephan visited Bean & Leaf Café on Tuesday, anyone cruising Twitter could find out.
Therein lies the danger, say the Please Rob Me creators.
"This is because it leaves one place you're definitely not ... home," the site warns.
Stephan, who works in public relations, acknowledges that Foursquare could be used by social media-savvy thieves.
"Somebody could just follow your tracks," she said. "It does leave it open, especially if you're someone who lives on your own."
But Stephan doesn't mind that her Foursquare whereabouts are instantaneously broadcast on Please Rob Me under the heading "Recently Empty Homes" -- which on average updates with about 30 "new opportunities" a minute.
"You should not say anything online that you don't want other people to hear or know or repeat," Stephan said.
Macomb County Sheriff's Capt. Tony Wickersham said that people too often forget that new technology is used by criminals to snare fresh victims.
“Somebody’s always looking at a way to profit from it or take advantage of it,” he said Thursday. “People are putting so much personal information, and sharing every move. I think it’s too much.”
Some users, such as 21-year-old Web developer Jacob Glide of Ferndale, restrict how often their Foursquare locations are posted via Twitter, though Glide said that wasn’t a decision rooted in safety concerns.
“The initial thing was trying not to annoy everyone who follows me on Twitter,” he said. “I don’t think I realized at the time the security benefit of it.”
Brian Wassom, a 35-year-old attorney from Macomb County, said people give up some measure of privacy and control whenever they post online — especially using programs that share geolocational information.
“People need to be smart with how they use these applications,” he said in response to a Twitter query. “But I’m excited to see where the technology is going, and I want to be a part of it.”
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