Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

PleaseRobMe website reveals dangers of social networks

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

pleaserobme.com, Boy Van Amstel
Boy Van Amstel created pleaserobme.com to make a point.

A website called PleaseRobMe claims to reveal the location of empty homes based on what people post online.

The Dutch developers told BBC News the site was designed to prove a point about the dangers of sharing precise location information on the internet.

The site scrutinises players of online game Foursquare, which is based on a person's location in the real world.

PleaseRobMe extracts information from players who have chosen to post their whereabouts automatically onto Twitter.

"It started with me and a friend looking at our Twitter feeds and seeing more and more Foursquare posts," said Boy Van Amstel, one of PleaseRobMe's developers.

"People were checking in at their house, or their girlfriend's or friend's house, and sharing the address - I don't think they were aware of how much they were sharing."

Mr Van Amstel, Frank Groeneveld and Barry Borsboom realised that not only were people sharing detailed location information about themselves and their friends, they were also by default broadcasting when they were away from their own home.

Simple search

The website took just four hours to create.

"It's basically a Twitter search - nothing new," said Mr Van Amstel. "Anyone who can do HTML and Javascript can do this. You could almost laugh at how easy it is."

He said that the site would remain live but stressed it was not created to encourage crime.

"The website is not a tool for burglary," he said. "The point we're getting at is that not long ago it was questionable to share your full name on the internet. We've gone past that point by 1,000 miles."

Mr Van Amstel added that in practice it would be "very difficult" to use the information on the website to carry out a burglary.

Charity Crimestoppers advises people to think carefully about the information they choose to share on the internet.

"We urge users of Twitter, Facebook or other social networks to stop and think before posting personal details online that could leave them vulnerable to crimes including burglary and identity theft," said a spokesperson.

"Details posted online are available for the world to see; you wouldn't hang a sign on your door saying you're out, so why would you post it online?"



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