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Your “Status Update” May be Revealing More Than Your Status

There have been a recent flurry of blog posts and media stories warning internet users about the potential dangers of posting their whereabouts on social networking sites, as such personal information is being used by opportunists to facilitate crimes. For example, just in the last month, three men in Nashua, New Hampshire allegedly used information they obtained from users’ Facebook status updates to learn when the users would not be home and thereupon broke into their vacant and vulnerable residences. Although Facebook has denied any link between its site and the crimes, the Nashua police believe that detailed information about the posters’ travel plans provided the thieves with sufficient information to know when the homes would be unoccupied.

Of course, the incidence of such crimes has not been widely disseminated through traditional media sources, such as newspapers, radio and television. As such, most Americans are unaware of this increasing phenomena. At the same time, internet users are more widely and more frequently publishing their personal information, including their travel and vacation plans, on social networking and other public sites. Moreover, beyond the routine “tweets” and run-of-the-mill social networking status updates, new applications for cellular phones and PDAs are being created to facilitate geographical updates. These applications such as “Foursquare,” “Gowalla” and “Facebook Places,” enable users to instantly identify their current physical location on the profiles they have created on social networking sites. Needless to say, allowing geographical information to freely be disclosed to the public can provide opportunists with even more accurate information about the whereabouts of their victims and their distance from an unoccupied and vulnerable residence.

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