The folks behind Please Rob Me have definitely hit a nerve on the web. Every time someone uses a location-based service such as Foursquare, Please Rob Me displays the ensuing tweet — but not before prefacing it with the phrase left home. As the site creators explain:
The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.
Please Rob Me is essentially asking us all to do the obvious: Learn from Paris Hilton. Several months ago, Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other celebrities were robbed by a young group of thieves who watched their sites and twitter accounts and struck when they were away at a premiere or some other event.
Of course, many people have long been publicly sharing the fact that they were far away from home (via facebook vacation photos, blog posts and even outgoing voicemail messages). And it wouldn’t be that difficult for luddite-leaning thieves to simply park across the street and wait for you to go out. But with location-sharing, we go out of our way to share our current location. And it’s not really clear why we do it.
In junior high, I had a chemistry teacher whose mantra was: “Write, don’t think.” That could easily be a mantra for this era. The addictive and urgent nature of the realtime, social web tantalizes us into sharing without really thinking about the broader issues related to our actions.
Would it surprise you to see a tweet that read:
Finally off to buy that new front door lock. Been broken for weeks and the alarm guy is booked through next Tuesday.
There are two questions one needs to ask before sharing location-based information.
First, does it need to be realtime? I’ve fallen into this trap before (as described in Confession #20: The Thirty Year Swim). The truth is, sharing via Twitter and Facebook almost never needs to be realtime. Your vacation photos will be equally uninteresting to me whether you post them when you get home or while your footprints are still fresh in the sand.
Second – and this is key – does anyone really care where you are? In Confession #28, I called this Waldo Envy (you’re convinced people care where you are).
To review: Does it need to be shared now? Is it worth sharing at all?
Before you share your location, the answers to both of those questions need to be yes. And unless you’re at the bottom of a well and being followed on Twitter by someone in close proximity who has a really long rope, chances are that at least one of the answers will be no.
Maybe the big winner in all of this is the guy who gamed Foursquare and got anointed as the Mayor of the North Pole even though he never went anywhere near that location. The thieves perusing Please Rob Me will think his house is empty. Meanwhile, he’s sitting on his couch with an iPhone in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Bring it on.