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PleaseRobMe Is the Logical Extension of Our Worst Fears about Location-Based Services


The rise of location-based social media holds a lot of promise and benefit for participants. But a legitimate concern about them is that they make it too easy to track where you are. For some people, that’s more information than they want out there.

Well, three guys – Barry Borsboom, Frank Groeneveld, Boy van Amstel – have taken this fear to its logical extension, with their site Please Rob Me. It tracks all the location-based updates people put out there via Foursquare. I assume Gowalla, Brightkite and other applications wouldn’t be far behind. And “helpfully” posts them to its site, and to its Twitter account.

Here’s a screen shot of how the site displays these updates:

Note that message there at the bottom. Their intention is not to have people burglarized. So what is their intent? From their site:

The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home. It gets even worse if you have “friends” who want to colonize your house. That means they have to enter your address, to tell everyone where they are. Your address.. on the internet.. Now you know what to do when people reach for their phone as soon as they enter your home. That’s right, slap them across the face.

The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc.

I do see the Google ads on the site. Which for some people will undercut the message and put the focus on the money-making opportunity. But in a conversation on Twitter about this with Keith Crawford, I likened what these guys are doing to hacking a system to show its vulnerability, not to corrupt it.

Because if these guys can pull this together, who else can?

Won’t stop me from my pedestrian check-ins (BART, Costco, Trader Joe’s, etc.). But these guys have made tangible the fear we have with these services.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

85 Responses to PleaseRobMe Is the Logical Extension of Our Worst Fears about Location-Based Services

  1. Tom Morris says:

    All fine, but for one little thing: just because I’m somewhere outside my home, my home is not necessarily empty. Families exist.

    This all points back to what I’ve been saying for ages: FireEagle is the only location-based service that has actually got all this privacy stuff right…

    • They are also sending out spam messages in Twitter to those people who end up on their website. That may be more annoying than the Four Square updates.

  2. Rahsheen says:

    I guess there may be people who use these location-based services without a second thought, but I’m fully aware of the implications. That said, just because I’m not home implies nothing about the status of my home except that I’m not there. It doesn’t automatically make my home any more vulnerable to robbery.

    • Rahsheen – to that point, you’ll see tweets like this:

      hey @pleaserobme! im not home, but my 100 lb twin pitbulls are! have fun!
      – @jazzman23

      @pleaserobme Thank you for caring. Fortunately my four 70lb dogs like to eat robbers looking to break in to my house.
      – @HillmanLentz

  3. Hutch –

    In looking at the site it seems to as much about the publishing of FourSquare into Twitter as it is about the privacy issues. As Tom and Rasheen point out, I’m not in my house does not mean its empty.

    They are also sending out spam messages in Twitter to those people who end up on their website. That may be more annoying than the Four Square updates.

    There are the obvious privacy issues. I think the bigger issue is the auto-publication of information into other platforms. The updates and the reasons for making them in the game environment of FourSquare makes less sense in Twitter. The same is true of auto-publishing all of your Twitter updates into FaceBook.

  4. Funny post, I loved it. I used to laugh every time I read about someone getting ripped off after posting on FB that they were going to Hawaii for a 2 week vacation.
    Maybe with location based technology we will hit critical mass and things will just return to the norm. There are only so many burglars?

    A shift in our society has occurred the past few years. We have gone from fearing the security of the internet to anything/everything goes, your nobody unless everything about you is transparent. There is little to no digital hygiene that is of any concern with many of the nets younger users. This is all they have known since High School, so it must be safe, secure, and no problem. I don’t know where this all nets out for privacy and society. Caution is still necessary, storage is unlimited and cheap and everything is connected.

  5. Pingback: Please Rob Me – Listing all those empty homes out there « hep-cat.de

  6. Andy says:

    Hutch,
    Give me a break! You are using a cheesy automated app and trying to stir up fear that there is a team of bad guys around the corner waiting to strike fear in our neighborhoods. Yes, people need to use common sense and not post their home address. But it is already easy to find people and where they live outside of twitter apps. The @pleaserobme losers should be kicked from Twitter for spamming out our names in a negative way and bringing unnecessary attention in the Twitter feed. You wasted your time in covering these dudes.

    • Kray says:

      Why should they be banned for using the API as it was intended. If you are dumb enough to post where you are at all times and somebody robs you specifically because of that, it’s your own fault, not some websites.

      Why don’t you blame Twitter or Foursquare for being location aware? These guys aren’t the ones posting that information, they are just syndicating it.

  7. Charles says:

    It’s true that just because you post that *you’re* not home doesn’t necessarily mean that *no one* is. In fact, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re not home either–people have been known to (gasp) lie from time to time, although I can’t imagine too many people lying on FB/TW about being at a restaurant at that exact moment or whatever.

    However, stunts like this *do* serve a purpose in making people more aware of the general point about posting this sort of information publicly. It’s not just the risk of home burglarly; there’s also other scenarios such as the following:

    Let’s say your crazy, stalker ex lives in the town (say, Chicago) that you’re visiting. You post that you’re having dinner at (Restaurant X) in Chicago. Hello! Guess who pops through the door, causing a scene and ruining your business meeting/family reunion/whatever?

    I can think of a dozen other scenarios, some more far-fetched than others like this.

  8. Knock knock? Who’s there? No one.

    Score!!!

    An even more sinister use of geodata is to be able to track down someone with malice of forethought. Wish I’d written about this last year, when I first figured it out….

    Anyway, enjoy the collapse of social media people, while I get back to prepping turn in for my 168 Project film. #kthxbai

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  10. Amy says:

    Want to know my address? There’s this thing called a phone book. Want to assume that just because I say I’m not home that my house is unprotected and empty? Go ahead, be that stupid.

    While I don’t post in advance about extended vacations, I also don’t have an irrational fear that high-tech burglars are hanging on my every tweet. I’m more worried about the proven, time-tested tricks burglars have been using for years — open windows, large shrubbery, etc.

    I would rather see an article that delves into whether the Please Rob Me guys have an inflated sense of self-importance.

    • Wade says:

      The natural progression of this will be that people will aggregate more services to find out which areas are vulnerable and profitable and ___. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about now, and certainly not with pleaserobme.com, but it’s a sign of things to come. The real thing to think about is if you stick out in aggregate, just as avoiding being the only person with an open window in a neighborhood of closed windows is more important than keeping windows closed. You can have your windows open if everyone else does, but if they don’t you should consider closing them…

  11. Keith says:

    First, thanks for the link Hutch.

    To extend our conversation: Coming from the InfoSec community and friends with several high profile hackers no one is a bigger supporter of exposing risk and raising awareness than I.

    In turn though InfoSec relies upon responsible disclosure to provide a process to address and security risk without putting unnecessary users at risk. (Yes the process breaks down but often issues are resolved). Although this situation is not highlighting a software vulnerability it still smacks of irresponsible usage.

    There are several sites and plenty of people, like yourself, that are trying to make people aware of the implications of social media security without this blatant expose site.

    I see their point. I agree we need awareness. I just think people like yourself are much better suited to helping inform people and that the robme folks are irresponsible and pulling a juvenile stunt.

    My 2 cents.

    Good post. Thanks Hutch.

  12. Eric Rice says:

    Mix that with GDGT and Flickr and hooboy. A point though, if traditional burglaries are done by someone you know, are modern burglaries 2.0 by someone you ‘know’?

    Sure, there are families and such, but patterns can be mapped, busy times can be mapped, and just the outright harassment can be downright uncomfortable. Aside from your assumed Rambo-ness, do you think your local PD is equipped to deal with this?

  13. Pingback: Please Rob Me: Una prueba práctica de la inseguridad de las redes sociales | arturogoga

  14. WC says:

    I understand the use of saying ‘I’m at Joe’s bar’ on twitter or facebook, so your friends know to come hang out.

    I don’t understand the use of saying ‘I’m at Costco.’ .. Seriously? WHO CARES!?

    • Well, I did say “pedestrian”, didn’t I?

    • Otto says:

      WC: I might care. Hey, I might want to tell my friend to pick me up a 5 gallon bucket of chocolate chip cookies. :D

  15. Jeremy Clark says:

    You don’t need a website to find homes whose owners are gone. Just walk down the block of any suburban neighborhood during the middle of the day and you’ll find plenty.

  16. Otto says:

    This site is stupid. If I really wanted to rob somebody, then waiting outside their house in a parked car until they left for work in the morning seems like a much more certain way to do it.

    • Couldn’t agree more. There are far more dangerous things people do every day than use FourSquare.

      Just wait though, the media is going to go batshit crazy as soon as someone gets raped or killed and the perp claims he used FourSquare to stalk his target.

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  18. elle says:

    There’s more to those apps than making people aware of your location. This is a selfish abuse of API and influence as a developer. Their development skills could be put to better use than this…. such as building an application to protect the location of Foursquare, Brightkite, and Google Buzz users from the general public using the same API integration used to develop pleaserobme.com

  19. Yep. This whole privacy thing is WAAAAY overblown. Social media does not make one any more vulnerable to random acts of violence. In almost all cases, the perpetrator will be someone you already know – and the use or non-use of FourSquare will have little impact the final outcome.

    At worst, FourSquare simply makes the perpetrator’s job of locating his target a little bit easier – assuming he or she has access to the service.

    In the end, the social and entertainment benefits of FourSquare far outweigh the miniscule increase in vulnerability that comes with use of the service. This app and all those chicken-little’s who claim the sky is falling are just trying to get attention.

  20. Sean says:

    It was only a matter of time… I warned of this very thing a month ago:

    http://www.scrollinondubs.com/2010/01/22/the-perils-of-lbs/

    Interesting approach to make people aware of the problem.

    sean

  21. Karim says:

    Does anyone know why the robber is depicted as a person of color? Particularly since the creators are from a country that is 80% Ethnic Dutch? ;-)

    • Aidan says:

      He’s a robber… he’s in a place with low lighting. Also, take into account the fact that it’s summer and he just had a tanning day at the beach. Strange that on this entire page, that’s the only thing you’ve commented on.

      Guys, they’re not pointing out that your home is vulnerable to just robbery. It’s about being open to malicious attacks of all sorts.. If your friend knows that you’re not at home, he could go over and screw your wife. And it’s not just people knowing that you’re not at home that leaves you vulnerable, but knowing exactly where you are at anytime.

      To the peeps mentioning they have dogs and whatever at home… If someone’s monitoring your location via the internet with the intention of breaking into your house, chances are it’s someone who knows you and most likely knows who/what would be waiting for them when you’re not there

      • Karim says:

        Not sure why you think it’s “strange” that I would comment on that, or only that. I had other opinions on the site, of course, but they had already been made in the comments and I saw no need to repeat what had already been said.

        Why yes of course he’s in a place with low lighting. Funny how the light hitting the back of his shirt makes the white stripes a lighter shade of white, and makes his swag bag a lighter shade of green, but makes his face a darker shade of BROWN. Must be some weird lighting they have in the Netherlands, huh? ;-)

      • Aidan says:

        Karim :
        Funny how the light hitting the back of his shirt makes the white stripes a lighter shade of white, and makes his swag bag a lighter shade of green, but makes his face a darker shade of BROWN.

        Wow, i was being sarcastic, but since you want to be pedantic…let’s be pedantic

        The dude actually IS in low lighting with the darkest area being at the centre of the image. Note the outer edges of the subject. From left to right you’ll see the bag goes from light to dark and the burglar’s face goes from dark to very light. The 3 shades of the background circles should’ve given that away

        As for what’s strange about your initial comment….
        It’s strange that in the world we live in, there are still people who look at a cartoon and note the racial factors thereof first. I’m sure there would be a miniscule amount of people who would have noticed the burglar’s skin colour before reading your comment.
        Pointing the discrimination finger at everything makes you seem insecure about your own complexion

      • Karim says:

        Aidan: Comment system doesn’t seem to do threaded replies well — see my comment #40 for a reply.

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  25. froddd says:

    all this debate while pleaserobme.com makes $$$ with people tweeting about them and driving traffic to their ads-fed site.

    It just works.

  26. Pingback: Bye bye four-square, oh how I loved thee – until I saw this « Deliciously Geeky

  27. neil says:

    wow. nice. thanks for sharing. :-)

  28. lmao@ the name of this site – simply amazing truly fine something new online everyday…just when I thought we’be seen it all haha…not yet anyways.

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  38. Jamie says:

    Want to know when I’m not home? When almost everyone on earth isn’t home? Every single day when I’m at work. So what?

    While I personally don’t like the implications of unfettered access to highly personal information at a broad scale, at a micro level, there’s nothing that anyone couldn’t find out for the last 100 years.

    Want to know if someone’s home? Knock on their door. If you were planning to rob a house, it’s a good first step.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Want to know if someone’s home? Knock on their door. If you were planning to rob a house, it’s a good first step.”

      You’d make a pretty stupid burglar. The first rule is “Don’t draw attention.” What if someone IS home when you knock on the door? What do you say – “I’ll come back later”? What if they remember the stranger at the door just before their home was broken into?

      • One person does the knocking and another does the robbing. He can pretend to be a salesman or beggar.

  39. Besides for the rest of my family and domestic workers still at home, I also have an alarm system which automatically calls a security company. So rob me if you want…

  40. Ok this thing has very limited intelligence:
    “left home and checked in about a minute ago:
    Getting ready for school. (@ Home)”
    Seems like it just takes any twitter status with an at or @ in.

    Besides its all very well to know that they are not at home but you still have to find out which home they not at!

  41. mike says:

    You cannot be ROBBED when you are not home!. That would be BURGLARY. A robber would have to find YOU to rob you. They could burglarize your empty home though.

    • Well that depends where you are in the world. For example in South Africa a robbery is both when your house is empty and if you there too.

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  43. DIY says:

    That’s the problem of having too much information, altough I’d rather be robbed when outside my house than when I’m inside!

  44. BigToys says:

    I love “Please Rob Me”. It really just points out the obvious; sometimes, people “aren’t” home.
    As a child our home was burglarized by a neighbor (who knew our comings and goings), so as an adult, I’ve determined if someone wants to steal from your home, they’ll figure it out with or without your help, and ultimately it’s best to try and not be there.

  45. Jordan10la says:

    I don’t get it. Why are we slapping people?

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  47. Karim says:

    Aidan :
    As for what’s strange about your initial comment….I’m sure there would be a miniscule amount of people who would have noticed the burglar’s skin colour before reading your comment.Pointing the discrimination finger at everything makes you seem insecure about your own complexion

    Uh, actually… it’s more of a “negative racial stereotype” finger that I was pointing, if you must know. ;-)

    I guess you took a poll to determine the number of people who would have noticed the burglar’s skin color? In any event, the number of people who would have noticed his skin color doesn’t make this character’s skin any less BROWN, despite your pathetically desperate attempts to explain it away as some sort of complex lighting malfunction which requires the burglar’s head to be in a different universe than the rest of his body. :-D

    I’m sure depicting the burglar as a person of color was some kind of horrible mistake, not a conscious decision on the part of the Dutch creators of the site. Why, there probably isn’t any racism in the Netherlands at all… ;-)

    • me-o-matic says:

      So it’d be OK if the burglar was ‘white’? And everyone in who’s ‘Dutch’ is automatically white?

      There’s an ass-load of ‘brown’ people of various races all over the world, and I’d bet dollars-to-donuts that, just like any group of humans, a percentage of them are accomplished burglars.

      Give us a break, and stop being a holier-than-thou racist.

      • Karim says:

        I’m just wondering why the creators of this site, who live in a country where 80-90% of the people are very pale indeed, felt some need to depict a burglar as having brown skin. That’s all. Do you have some explanation for that?

      • Karim says:

        I’ll take that as a “No, I don’t have any explanation for why they depicted the burglar as a person of color.”

    • Aidan says:

      It’s useless trying to hold a mature conversation with the blissfully ignorant…

      • Karim says:

        You think it’s a lighting malfunction, I got it. No need to apologize for your blissful ignorance, Aidan. ;-)

    • Aidan says:

      wow, are you like 13years old?
      TSEK BERGIE NAAIER!!!

      • Karim says:

        Your idea of a snappy comeback, I gather.

  48. Pingback: LPT » Blog Archive » The Person Breaking Into Your House Has Probably Never Heard of PleaseRobMe.com

  49. jonhawk says:

    Amongst all the other remarks made about this page I suppose I’m the only one to think that a house is burgled, not burglarized…

  50. Mike says:

    Brilliant idea. And I think he’s just very tan.

    • Karim says:

      I am sure that when the police attempt to find this burglar, they will describe him as a “very tan” male. ;-)

  51. Angela says:

    Nice Post.

    I agree that this is a great way to gain publicity for please rob me. Interesting idea.

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  56. teddydouglas says:

    Looks like Twitter has suspended their account.

  57. Marie says:

    None of this would be possible if people didn’t feel compelled to communicate their identity and whereabouts to the general public.

    Why exactly is it important to let the world know that you are at Trader Joe’s right now buying mojito salmon and frozen pomegranate seeds?

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  60. i use foursquare which is a similar gps finding locator; and i only accept friends who i know personally.. I would hate to add random friends and have them knowing that i’m not home..

    thank god for guard dogs right! hehe

  61. Pingback: Pleaserobme.com Uses Social Geo-Tagging to Tell Burglars When You’re Not Home | Tall Poppy Infosec

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  63. Why exactly is it important to let the world know that you are at Trader Joe’s right now buying mojito salmon and frozen pomegranate seeds?

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