I change the directions of small pieces of metal for a living.

My Doorbell Is Better Than Your "Please Rob Me"

| Comments

“Hey man, I know you really like Foursquare, but you should check out this new site called Please Rob Me. Foursquare is actually really dangerous, cuz now it’s easy for robbers to know when you’re not at your house!”

I’m a Foursquare user, and I’ve heard variations of this from over a dozen of my friends in the past 24 hours. For the record, I think “Please Rob Me” is a really funny and creative idea, and I love that they made it. However, anyone who is legitimately giving privacy/security advice over this is being ridiculous.

First of all, most people are out of the house from 9am to 5pm. Robbers know this, and Foursquare checkins don’t change it.

Second, there’s absolutely zero indication of whether or not anyone else is home, or how soon you’ll be getting back. These are much more crucial pieces of knowledge than “a single person was not in his house at this time”.

Last, and most important, a superior technology has existed for decades: the doorbell. Run around a neighborhood ringing doorbells of houses that look like they might be vacated, and break into the ones that no one answers.

“Oh but people don’t answer their doorbell every time, so a robber might break into an occupied house!”

Right. Just like people don’t have to actually be at a place to check into it on Foursquare, and like how checking in on Foursquare doesn’t mean no one else is home. There are potential false positives with both methods (and if there weren’t, people would be getting robbed a lot more). The point is, breaking in based on doorbell-ringing is much less dangerous than doing it based on Foursquare checkins, as it’s reasonably likely that no one is home if no one answers the doorbell

In reality, privacy via anonymity has always been a pretty shaky concept. Yes, checking into Foursquare does give robbers one more tool to make their job easier, but in the face of much better tools (like the doorbell), it’s negligible. If you chose to be a Foursquare user in the first place, Please Rob Me should have no impact on your decision.