*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News
The number of Facebook users has exceeded the United States population. The online social network is fast becoming the most powerful social interaction tool in the world. It closes the gap between friends and family from across the miles and allows us to get to know our neighbors a little better.
Some argue that Facebook allows people to hide behind their computers rather than have real, social interaction with others. I disagree. I see it as another communication tool that enhances the relationships we form with our friends and acquaintances. In our busy lives, we don’t get to connect with those we care about as often as we would like so Facebook is a nice way to stay in touch. We share our thoughts in the form of a status update, we link videos and articles that resonate with us, and we post our vacation pictures in real time.
Although posting vacation pictures is a great way for others to share in our travel experience, believe it or not, it also puts us at risk for thugs breaking into our homes and robbing us blind. (You had to know I was going to take it down this road!) It is so tempting to share our hardships while in the security line at the airport and then post the picture of the long awaited umbrella drink as soon as we’ve landed at our destination. I am guilty of this myself. In fact, I fell into a false sense of security because I assumed that since my profile is set to “private”, unauthorized people will not see my content. However, after sitting down with a computer guru for a few minutes I quickly learned that my assumption was incorrect. Hacking Facebook is a cottage industry and does not pose much of a challenge for a tech savvy individual with dishonorable intent.
Websites are now popping up that prey on unsuspecting Facebook and Twitter users. A website created by a Danish web developer uses what people post on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reveal the location of empty homes. (The site shall remain nameless because I refuse to give the developers a free plug.) The site works by sifting through status updates to pinpoint users who are advertising their vacation destinations. Once they’ve hacked into a page, it’s not difficult to pinpoint a location by searching a name in one of the many Internet search engines. You would be astounded how easy it is to determine where a person lives from the white pages on-line or from real estate transactions that are easily searchable with merely a name.
Facebook is making it even easier to share locations with your connections with the introduction of a new feature called “places”. If you are using Facebook on a smart phone, the internal GPS sniffs the air for local Wi-Fi networks and compares them to a map of known network locations. If you are at the movies, your phone will quickly figure out which cinema you are in. While it won’t identify that you are in Theater 5 watching a Steven Seagal film, it is easy to surmise that you will be gone from your home for roughly two hours. Armed with that knowledge, I could conceivably break into your home in that time frame and steal your belongings before you’ve had the chance to wipe the popcorn butter from your chin.
People use these technologies to connect with friends and find things that may be of interest to them. The risk comes when too much information is put out there. Be conscious of over-sharing, the potential risk that might result, and the unintended consequences.
We all want to see the pictures from your family reunion in Tulsa, but it might be smarter to share after you get home.