what do social media privacy concerns and your insurance rates have in common?

well, your last tweet may have jacked up your home insurance

Please Rob Me. Wait, hold on. PleaseRobMe.com. That’s more like it. In the new era of social media privacy concerns, the folks at ForTheHack pretty much exposed popular/next-big-thing Foursquare (the location-based, social media…umm, game, I guess) as a giant “Please Loot Me Silly” target on your house or apartment.

PleaseRobMe.com cleverly takes the updates of the Foursquaring masses and repurposes them as “opportunities” to access an empty abode. For example, let’s say Bob announces on Foursquare that he is at the grocery store. Well, Carl sees that and knows now that Bob ain’t home – he’s cruisin’ the produce section. That’s a potentially empty home/apartment that is now a target.

Here’s a real example. As I’m writing this, I am looking at the newest “opportunity” at PleaseRobMe.com who just told the world that he is going to get lunch and then to the library for a few hours. I clicked through to his Twitter page and found not only the town he lives in, but where he works. I’m sure I could find a few more ways to narrow that information down even more. Heck, by looking at his Twitter stream, I can put together a fairly complete pattern of what he does on a daily basis and where he is at any given time.

For the sake of complete transparency, though, this is likely what would happen if I tried to rob your house:

the insurance companies are keen to Twitter privacy concerns and the huge liabilities of announcing your every move

Reported in the Huffington Post (and elsewhere), insurance companies may be setting their collective sites on the privacy concerns associated with social media. An insurance cost comparison site, Confused.com, “argues that social media services like Foursquare and Buzz can increase the risk of theft by alerting burglars to times when people are out of their homes, thus leading to home insurance hikes,” according to the HuffPost piece. That hike could be as much as 10%.

To be fair, no insurance company has announced that social media privacy concerns might be grounds for rate hikes, but c’mon…they are insurance companies – created and dedicated solely to finding new and creative ways to get more money from you. Would you put it past them?

However, the HuffPost article points out, when answering machines started to become popular people were warned that announcing you weren’t home to take a call was the equivalent of leaving your front door unlocked with a giant sign outside that says, “Enjoy Selling My Stuff.”

This is different, though. With the example from earlier – the guy at the library – I know where he works because of his Twitter profile. If so inclined, I could hang out there (because from Foursquare and his Tweets, I know generally when he is there) and follow him home someday. Then, I know his address. All I have to do is wait for the next time he tells me when he isn’t home and I head over to his house. Gleaning all of that information from an answering machine would be damn near impossible.

i’m not going to rob you, but I could…and that’s the point. social media privacy concerns are real

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare, social media privacy concerns are pretty much here to stay. I would love to think that a service like Foursquare is beneficial. It certainly allows users to promote and discuss local businesses and establishments. That’s the beauty of all social media – you are enabled to communicate with more people more rapidly than possible in “real-time.” But we all know that there are some pretty savvy thieves out there who thrive on the bits of information we drop daily. A social media service like Foursquare takes most of the work out of it for them, though. It’s like a take-out menu for burglars.

And that’s the goal of PleaseRobMe.com. They aren’t interested in helping criminals. From their site: “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. Because all this site is, is a dressed-up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information.”

In fact, ForTheHack is actually looking to unload PleaseRobMe (for a profit? Who knows). Again, from their site: “We at Forthehack have been thinking about how we want to continue pleaserobme.com. It has received a lot of attention and it’s time for the next step. We want to offer this website to a professional foundation, agency, or company that focuses on raising awareness, helping people understand and provide answers to online privacy-related issues.”

bottom line – know the security risks of social media

Everyone knows about privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter and how to limit your information to a designated group of people. But, as the push for increased interactivity (i.e. Foursquare) nudges you into providing more and more information, remember that I might rob you…and I’ll leave a note that says, “#Itoldyouso.”

Thanks to @ivanlajara for turning me on to the PleaseRobMe.com site. I plan on robbing him as soon as he tells me where he’s headed today.

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