The negative side of location-based social media has finally entered the news. New Hampshire police apprehended suspects who committed a series of robberies based on social network status updates. Local Nashua, NH news channel WMU
R reported on the burglary ring, which was cracked when set-off fireworks attracted the attention of an off-duty police officer.
The suspects allegedly collected information on their victims, scanning status updates that included when they would be on vacation, out of the house, or related information. While three individuals have been arrested, police expect that even more people were responsible for the $100,000 to $200,000 worth of stolen property.
Facebook's new Places functionality, which enables users to post in their news feed where they are, could have been one tool the robbers used. But any location-based mobile application, such as Foursquare or MyTown, relying on its core functionality, as well as many users' practice of linking the app to their Facebook account. Location can be turned on for Twitter, but many tweets can indicate that the user is not at home without explicitly stating their location.
As TechCrunch suggests, several months ago the Please Rob Me site aimed to bring attention to just such crime opportunities that social media gives to opportunists. While sites such as SocialShield try to keep children safe from sharing too much information, there are not visible sites that do that for adults.
"Be careful of what you post on these social networking sites," said Capt. Ron Dickerson. "We know for a fact that some of these players, some of these criminals, were looking on these sites and identifying their targets through these social networking sites."
These words of advice are common sense, and may preempt the need for dedicated social safety startups. If not heeded, this may be a new sector for growth in Internet services.