Despite the overblown hype about a new website called Please Rob Me, which aims to make the point that people who use location-based services (internet based tools that publish your location) are essentially “asking to be robbed,” the hype and fear-mongering is way overblown.
Using a location-based service such as Foursquare, Gowalla or any number of upcoming location-based mobile games does not substantially increase a person’s risk any more than crossing the street makes one more vulnerable to being hit by a car. Could it happen? Sure. But the odds argue overwhelmingly against it.
So-called personal security experts (who are in the business of demonstrating a need for their services) continue to point to the increase in crimes that are connected to the use of social media services like Facebook and Twitter, where, for example, a victim publishes a status update saying he or she is leaving town for a week, and later came home to find they’d been robbed.
But objective statisticians would be quick to point out that while such instances are increasing, so, too, is the use of social media. One could just as easily argue that lottery winners who use Facebook are also on the increase. That doesn’t mean using Facebook makes a person more likely to win the lottery. The same thing could be said of cars and crashes. It goes without saying that as traffic increases, so, too, will traffic accidents. But that doesn’t make it unsafe to drive a car.
I’ve yet to see any actual data about the percentage of people who use social services versus the percentage of those same people who were victimized because of their use of those services. I’d wager that the “social media crime rate” is about the same as the overall crime rate in the United States, which means that using social media services doesn’t make one any more vulnerable – and one could argue that having your friends know where you are and what you’re doing actually makes you safer.