PleaseRobMe gathers web 2.0 data to make a point

PleaseRobMe, a publicity stunt for a "concept and ideas factory" called Forthehack, presents a list of geotagged status updates under the heading "Recent Empty Homes". It uses open application programming interfaces from Twitter and FourSquare, scraping the geotagged check-ins and status updates, which are publicly accessible to anyone, and re-displaying them on its own website.

"The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you're definitely not... home," explained Forthehack. "So here we are; on one end we are leaving lights on when we're going on a holiday, and on the other we are telling everybody on the internet we are not home."

Commonly available information such as a person's home address (or at least city of residence) could be enough to alert burglars to an immediate opportunity, the site suggests. "All this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page," Forthehack continued. "Everybody can get this information."

FourSquare is one of a growing collection of 'check-in' websites that encourage users to login using mobile phones from wherever they are. FourSquare awards points and other virtual prizes to users that check-in from their favorite restaurants, bars, and other points of interest.

FourSquare, Twitter, and other mobile sites such as Gowalla are growing in popularity, following the increasing prevalence of GPS-enabled smart phones. Buzz, the controversial service launched by Google this month, also features a geotagging system for status updates.

Even photographs are now being tagged with location and time information before being immediately uploaded to user-generated content sites such as Flickr. Johannes Ullrich at the SANS Institute earlier this month analyzed over 15 000 images from popular image hosting site Twitpic. A total of 399 images included the location of the camera at the time the image was taken.

Reports emerged yesterday that PleaseRobMe's Twitter account, which it was allegedly using to warn users that they might be in danger, had been suspended.

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