Website is a 'one stop shop for burglars'
The founders of a website, PleaseRobMe.com, which provides real-time updates on empty homes locations are "irresponsible" for providing a "one stop shop" for burglars, privacy campaigners say.
The Dutch website, launched this week, provides minute-by-minute updates on people who have just left their house.
Privacy campaigners have expressed outrage at the website, which publishes a regular updated stream of “opportunities” by detailing the names of Twitter users, when they left home and where they were currently located.
The three founders of the website denied they were providing a tool for burglars but instead were highlighting the dangers of the newest social networking craze.
They say they were pointing out that users of Foursquare exchange details of their precise location and were putting themselves at danger of becoming robbery victims.
The data it provides on people’s movements is searchable by city or by their Twitter username.
A search for "4sq -@four-square London" on the micro-blogging site regularly details information posted by Londoners who have left their houses.
But the website, which also takes the feed, has outraged campaigners.
Simon Davies, director of the Privacy International campaign group, said the website’s creators had “failed in their duty of care”.
“It is completely and totally irresponsible,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“They have raised a poignant and important issue about what people disclose on the internet but they could have done this so much better. They could have left out the details of people’s addresses.
“What they have actually achieved is providing a one-stop-shop for burglars rather than achieve their goals, which are to raise awareness.”
He added: “They make a legitimate point on the sort of information people put online about themselves. However there are ways of making those points.
“But they have created a portal for people to check whether people’s homes in their area are empty.”
Foursquare is a Twitter-type application which turns city maps into game boards, helps pals meet up, and awards “prizes” to the most active of its 150,000 followers.
They “check in” on their mobile phone to record their position on a map, indicating where they are.
More importantly, it also details where someone is not currently staying, such as their home, which is based on geolocation technology.
Those details are fed to Twitter, but are also copied to Please Rob Me, which presents them as a “burglars’ wish-list”.
Criminals monitoring their movements can, with a little extra investigation, pin down their exact address, and simply wait for the tweet that says “nobody’s home”.
In some cases users “check in” giving the exact address of a friend’s home, which makes life even easier for the criminal.
Some people caught on the site have also reacted with fury.
Raz Chorev, a freelance marketing consultant in Sydney, was listed on the site after he posted a message on Twitter saying he was at a café.
Mr Chorev was surprised to learn he had been listed as a potential target but he was not concerned enough to change his online habits.
"If someone really wants to rob me they'll do it without Twitter," he told Ninemsn, an Australian news site.
On their site the founders state: “Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burglarised.”
It added: "Hi there, all we can say is wow. The amount of attention we're getting is amazing."
But it also lists “all those empty homes out there” and provides a running total of “new opportunities”.
Co-founder Frank Groeneveld, 22 said:“We’re leaving the lights on when we’re going on a holiday, but we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home.
“The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not – home.
"We're not trying to get people robbed, but helping them not to get robbed. We're just presenting this information in a more obvious way. And that's our point: Everyone can see this on Twitter.”
He added: “At first we thought about it as a prank, but while developing the site we started to realise it really is a big risk (and problem), so it became a cultural statement.”
Another co-founder Boy Von Amstel added: “We saw people 'checking in' at their home addresses, or even worse, those of their friends and family, which we just thought was very wrong.”
The website comes days after Google was forced to redesigned its new social networking site, Buzz, after numerous privacy complaints.
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," a spokesman told the BBC.
"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?"