PleaseRobMe: Like Foursquare, but for crooks

I bet that shiny, new “Brooklyn 4 Life” badge doesn’t look as hot when someone steals your fancy iPhone, does it?

As Foursquare and its ilk spreads across the techie crowd like digi-herpes, a key detail has been gleefully overlooked during the lovefest over geolocation services . (Gowalla and Google Buzz count, too.) When everyone knows you’re pounding jello shots at Down the Hatch on E. 4th Street, anyone exposed to that information also knows you’re not chilling at your crib a thirty or so minute subway ride away in Greenpoint. Even if you don’t publicly announce your check-ins, when you become “mayor” of a venue of Foursquare, it auto-updates everyone using Twitter. What could possibly go wrong?

While that insight hasn’t entirely escaped those who embrace location aware services, everyone sat up and paid attention today with word spreading of a (probably inevitable) newer, possibly more sinister application in the same “share and share alike” vein. PleaseRobMe, whose header features a stock-style burglar with a striped shirt, mask and sack of stolen goods, arrived on the scene to aggregate the location of “all those empty homes out there.”

So, are PleaseRobMe’s founders out to get us all raped, robbed or worse? Not according to the site’s founders, who say they just want to “raise awareness” of the security issues inherent in this kind of social networking:

Don’t get us wrong, we love the whole location-aware thing. The information is very interesting and can be used to create some pretty awesome applications. However, the way in which people are stimulated to participate in sharing this information, is less awesome. Services like Foresquare allow you to fulfill some primeval urge to colonize the planet. A part of that is letting everyone know you own that specific spot…

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.

It’s hard to say what the best practice is here- if you’re in agreement with the founders of PleaseRobMe, then you really should eschew all location aware apps and services at all times. If the whole point is people not knowing where you are when you’re there, Foursquare and Gowalla are pretty much out. But then again, your computer is at home so if you’re on Facebook or emailing, then you’re pretty obviously at home or at work, and anyone can come in and rape you with an and iron. And if you’re using your work email, you’re most likely at work so some disgruntled ex-employee can come in and target you in an instance of workplace violence.

Where do we draw the line? Should you forgo all location aware services and, to hell with it, the whole internet? Personally, I like PleaseRobMe’s suggestion the best:

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.

Comments