Social Media and Home Security

“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not … home.”

The daughter of a friend attends Oregon State University (to protect the relatively innocent, let’s call her Jessica).  Jessica and I are friends on Facebook.  Thanks to this Facebook connection and Jessica’s prolific status updates, I know when she has a “scary” test, what she’s having for dinner and how she feels about the latest cut on Dancing with the Stars.  I also know she lives off campus with one roommate and a mischievous cat.  I know when Jessica will be at the library studying or out all night with friends, spending a weekend in Lincoln City with her grandma or flying to Las Vegas to visit her parents.  I know when her roommate is out of town.  I know when Jessica is home, when she is home alone and when she is out.  In a nutshell, Jessica gives details online when to best burglarize her apartment.

Open book of Facebook

Jessica isn’t unusual.  Broadcasting private information online seems perfectly normal in a Web 2.0 world and the behavior crosses generations.  According to Facebook, users average 130 “friends” and in recent sampling studies, Facebook users didn’t actually know about 62 percent of people they “friended”.  For unclear, but much hypothesized reasons, people will tell 130 “friends” and inadvertently the entire online community (you tell 130 people and they tell 130 people and so on and so on) intimate details they would never share when faced with a room of 130 acquaintances.  This sharing with strangers creates personal safety risk, identity theft risk, and risk of burglary or home invasion.

1. Don’t post information about where you or family members will be and when.
2. Talk to every member of your family about the details they include in status updates.
3. Closely monitor household members’ posts and delete instances of over-sharing.
4. Wait until you return from vacation to post pictures.
5. Before you post anything, ask yourself if you would feel safe if you saw that information on a billboard.
6. Tighten up your Facebook privacy settings (go to Account/Privacy Settings), as well as those of your immediate family.
7. Talk to friends and extended family about private information they post and their privacy settings.
8. If friends and family members continue to post risky information, “unfriend” them.
9. Be selective about who you approve as a Facebook friend and routinely review the friends of your household members.
10.  Repeat 1 through 9 on a regular basis.

The 140-character burglary invitation
With only 75 million users, Twitter is dwarfed by Facebook’s 500 million active users, but Twitter users tend to post more often and share more location information, putting their homes at greater risk for burglary.

1.  Don’t check the “Add location to your tweets” option under Twitter settings/Tweet location.
2.  Don’t tweet information about new electronics purchases or other items in your home burglars could find attractive.
3.  Don’t tweet where you’re going, how long you’ll be there or when you expect to get home.
4.  Regularly prune your list of Twitter followers and block unsavory tweeple.
5.  Make certain your children and other household members also follow steps 1 through 4.

“Place” yourself at risk
Geo Location social media, networks that share where you physically are, is growing in popularity.  Platforms like Foursquare have caught on quickly and Facebook and Twitter have added geo location features to their user options.  These networks can be a great resource for restaurant reviews or last minute meet ups with friends, and they make loyal patrons eligible for special deals from their favorite store.  They can also be a burglar’s best friend.

1.  If you haven’t already signed up for a geo location network, don’t.
2.  If you decide to connect through a geo location network, use discretion and exercise skepticism, caution and common sense.
3.  Don’t allow minors to use geo location networks.

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (although the platforms and networks will continue to change and evolve) and “just say no” isn’t an effective long-term security solution.  Enjoy the benefits of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, YouTube, MySpace, et al, but be vigilant about the risks to your family and home.  Keep the above tips in mind and pause a moment or two to think about what you’re sharing with the world before you click “Post”.