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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

September 1, 2012 at 8:14 PM

Real friends won’t burglarize you when you’re on vacation

Too risky to share? If I’m on the beach in Maine, I’m away from home in Seattle. (Photo: Monica Guzman)

Ah, Labor Day weekend. Three more days to make friends envious of what you do on your summer vacation — all in real time.

I didn’t go anywhere special, but I followed friends who did — their sights, sounds, and just-served sangrias coming to me live on any of a number of social networks.

And why not? It’s not like their friends are going to burglarize their homes while they’re gone.

Or will  they?

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another issue in online sharing that’s either no big deal or fraught with peril — depending less on actual risk than on how much you trust your networks.

The story broke out of Anderson County, S.C., in late June: Candace Landreth and Robert Landreth Jr. were arrested after authorities said they had burglarized the homes of Facebook friends who had posted updates from out of town — several homes over the course of two months, deputies alleged. That would make them not just criminals, but jerks.

Tech site Ars Technica put the lesson to online sharers this way: Think twice before posting vacation photos.

I’ll put it another way: Think twice before choosing with whom you share.

Here’s the thing, and those of you who have been there know what I’m talking about: Sharing photos and status updates from your vacation while you’re on vacation can be incredibly rewarding. It links your life at home to your life away and helps you appreciate the contrast that much more.

This is not a new concept. We like to travel with friends and family because we can share our reactions to new experiences with someone who’s right there with us. Even people who travel alone take a journal, so they can at least have those conversations with themselves.

Of course, sharing travels online isn’t for everyone all the time — or ever. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. I’ve been distracted enough by the social Web while away that I’ve pledged to take at least one trip a year where I’m completely disconnected. There are good reasons to hold back.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that people who do get a kick out of sharing travels in real time need a good reason not to. And — at least for now — the threat of status-stalking burglars hiding among your networks isn’t that reason.

An estimated 3.7 million burglaries on average occurred nationwide each year from 2003 to 2007, 72 percent of them while no one was home. There were 2.2 million burglaries nationwide in 2010, including 6,449 in Seattle. If burglaries have gone up in the age of social sharing, it hasn’t shown up in the numbers.

This boogeyman has been around a while, and it’s not limited to vacations. In 2010 three Dutch developers thought they’d make a clever point by publishing a stream of tweets from people who had checked in to a location using Foursquare under the heading “Please Rob Me,” the caricature of a masked burglar and the label “Recent Empty Homes.”

“Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burgled,” a line along the bottom of pleaserobme.com still reads. But the effect was to shock sharers into being terrified of burglars who — let’s face it — have better ways to target homes than to scour Twitter for I’m-out-and-about posts, hunt for people’s addresses, hope they’re nearby and execute what may or may not be a worthwhile heist before @poorsoul3142 checks out of the bar.

It reminds me of burglars Harry and Marv from the 1990 film, “Home Alone,” which I saw as a kid, oh, maybe 30 times. They staked out a neighborhood to get everything they needed for their big holiday heist. If it hadn’t been for little terror Kevin McCallister, they’d have pulled it off, too. But I digress.

When the lesson of a social media cautionary tale is “Don’t share,” it’s almost always better stated as “Share responsibly.” It used to be that online sharing was either completely public or completely private. Not anymore.

Feel nervous sharing summer trip updates with all your Facebook or Twitter friends? Make a list of just close friends to share with on Facebook, stick to email, or, if you’d rather, wait until you get home.

Then go ahead. Post photos of your sand-covered toes on a far-off tropical surf.

We love it. Honest.

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