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Is Facebook leaving the door open for burglars?

Holiday snaps on Facebook, bragging about our shopping spree on Twitter – new research suggests most burglars monitor social media to choose their targets. Are we sharing too much information?

Most of us already knew that posting our “away on holiday” status on a social network wasn’t smart, but the results of a survey carried out by security firm Friedland suggests we may need to watch what we write even more carefully.

In a survey of 50 “former” convicted burglars, four out of five revealed their belief that active burglars are using social media to plan their next heist. It’s a frightening statistic.

What are burglars reading?

Social media certainly does offer bags of opportunity for the switched-on burglar. Not only do we post holiday plans, but we’ll add updates about meeting a friend in Liverpool, having a pint in town or taking your dog for a walk. All are adverts for an empty house.

And there’s more. Burglars not only know when you’re out of the house – they know what’s inside. Thanks to our willingness to brag about shopping purchases (especially on Facebook) we’re attracting them with a shopping list of shiny products.

‘Just grabbed a brand new Sony Vaio laptop’ or ‘my husband’s bought me a brand new diamond stuffed, silver encrusted, gold battered necklace’. Like turning up to Argos with their order number, burglars already know what we’ve bought and they’re in your empty house to collect it. They can even virtually case the joint for alarms using Google Maps.

The need to be social media smart

All this swapping of crowbars for computers is enough to make you consider “Facebook Suicide”, but do we really need to throw out our PC and dust down the typewriter? Surely we just need to exercise a little common sense when updating social media?

On Facebook it’s relatively straightforward. As long as you keep your updates limited to friends only – assuming none of your friends are career criminals – there is no way for strangers with swag bags to see what you’re up to. Of course, the fact that Facebook’s privacy dial is like a washing machine stuck on spin doesn’t help.

Far worse is the location check-in feature, as seen on Facebook and Four Square. Facebook says you can ‘easily share where you are, what you’re doing and the friends you’re with right from your mobile’. You may as well hang a neon sign saying ‘I’m out, the keys are under the mat and there’s milk in the fridge’.

So, are we sharing too much online? Probably. Looking back through my friends’ Facebook and Twitter feeds, I could easily help myself to a couple of iPhones, a laptop or two and even a Banksy. I’ll certainly be thinking a little more carefully about what I post. It’s probably wise to keep my grand holiday plans, general whereabouts and shopping successes secret.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a state of the art burglar alarm and I’ll be broadcasting its existence on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments
Profile photo of mohawk52
Member

I don’t know why the majority of the worlds population have become so naive and lackadaisical about the security of the World Wide Web. It’s still no more secure and as wild an ocean full of dangerous creatures ready to cause you no end of harm and grief if you let them. That’s why I don’t belong to any of these social networking sites who’s atitude is “don’t sign up to us if you don’t want to be social” so I don’t. My continued feeling is the less anyone knows about me on the internet the better I feel using it, and I fully expect any site I do sign up to to abide by their rules on privacy and confidentiality. If I want friends and family to contact me, or me contact them, we all have our addresses and phone numbers. The rest of the world doesn’t need to know, nor should care, whether I’m home, or not, and it appears only the dangerous creatures do. I can see home insurance companies using this as a get-out-of-paying-for-losses advantage if they haven’t latched on to it already.

Member
PeterH says:
9 October 2011

Yes, people do share too much. People seem to put their every move on social media – especially Facebook, and unfortunately I don’t think they really think of the risk they are taking.

The biggest problem though is Facebook – as the writer says – and privacy settings. Given the research above, Facebook’s fog of privacy settings and constant fiddling is not just annoying but potentially dangerous. It’s difficult to know exactly what people are seeing.

Maybe Which? should produce an advice guide.

Profile photo of william
Member

Facebooks constantly changing settings are the biggest security concern. When I started with Facebook only people I added could see me, now almost anyone and his dog can. And I’ve changed nothing and not asked any changes either. Facebook are truly pests of the worst kind. That Googles street view and things like 192.com make a burglars life very easy.

Member
Really!?! says:
10 October 2011

This is a little over the top don’t you think. A quick change of settings on either Facebook or Twitter can keep all of one’s posts private.
Failing that it would just be so data intensive for anyone to pay attention to so many random posts. and unless this burglar knew your address already then they’d be reliant on the GPS tagging of your post yo locate your house. This type of tagging is usually fairly accurate but not enough to oin you down to a house number. A street maybe. It’s just so far fetched to imagine this happening.
And the only real support for this happening is a ‘belief’ from a bunch of former burglars that this is happening. A ‘belief’! They “revealed thier belief…” that this is happening. That’s not even anacdotal evidence.
Come on Which? Could you at least think some of these types of articles through before posting stuff that may make people worry unneccessarily!?!

And as for using Google Maps to check for alarms! Come on!?!

Profile photo of Rory Boland
Member

@Really. I take your point. If you stay on top of your settings on Facebook, it eliminates much of the problem. Unfortunately, most people aren’t on top of their settings. The majority of people don’t know what their privacy settings are, don’t know who can see what’s on their Facebook profile and aren’t aware that Facebook is constantly changing the settings and permissions. As @PeterH pointed out, it’s difficult to work out exactly what parts of your profile other parties can see. This is an ongoing problem.

The second issue is who we call friends. If you just have people you know as friends on Facebook; school friends, work friends, people from your sports team then you are probably comfortable with them seeing where you are and what you’re buying. It’s something you would share with them on the phone or in email. However, there is an increasing trend for people to collect as many friends as possible – to add a casual acquaintance they met down the pub last night, a friend of a friend – anybody to increase their friend count. They don’t really know these people and I doubt they would feel comfortable telling them when they’ll be out the house and what’s inside. Yet that’s exactly what their posts on Facebook are doing.

Of course we can’t lay all the blame at Facebook’s door. We need to be smarter about using social media; be more aware of how accessible our information can be and more discerning in what we share.

Member
Nixon says:
19 January 2012

The problem isn’t the security of the internet – it’s people who know nothing about the internet & computers signing up to social networking sites, NOT reading the T’s & C’s, NOT taking the ‘tour’ of the site before starting, NOT checking their privacy settings, and NOT having the humility to ask a web-savvy friend or family member to show them around and help them to understand the implications of their online activity.

People need a licence to drive a car, but anyone is allowed to use the internet without knowing how to use it safely – and then they are the ones complaining when they get into an accident! Get educated, get informed, and THEN use the internet.

For me, Facebook events, Twitter updates, and Foursquare check-ins have leveraged great friendships, parties, gigs and even picnics! The internet is wonderful and opens a world of opportunity. The only people having issues are the ones driving without a licence.

Profile photo of william
Member

I agree with some of what Nixon says. However the problem with facebook is they have (/had) a problem with not notifying people at all about changes, thus forcing people to keep checking their settings.

If you bought a new door for your house once you’ve shut and locked it you wouldnt expect to keep checking every other day to see if it unlocked and opened itself.