Thursday, February 18, 2010

A new, and scary, kind of online PSA

If you haven't been to Please Rob Me yet, you should do so now. Not because you are in any imminent danger, but because it's an interesting new development in public service announcements.

Created by Dutch designers and developers Barry Borsboom, Frank Groeneveld, and Boy van Amstel, Please Rob Me is just a template for displaying a specific type of Twitter search, one that amalgamates Tweets from voluntarily location-aware applications like Foursquare, and uses the context to tell everyone that the Twitterer is no longer at home.

From the developers:

"Hey, do you have a Twitter account? Have you ever noticed those messages in which people tell you where they are? Pretty annoying, eh. Well, they're actually also potentially pretty dangerous. We're about to tell you why.

Don't get us wrong, we love the whole location-aware thing. The information is very interesting and can be used to create some pretty awesome applications. However, the way in which people are stimulated to participate in sharing this information, is less awesome.


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

And here's why I think this qualifies as a social marketing PSA:

"The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because all this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information."

Mashable adds:

"These guys have a legitimate point. Stories about status updates leading to burglaries are becoming commonplace. You may remember that video podcaster Israel Hyman was robbed after tweeting that he was out was out town, and there’s even evidence to support the notion that burglars are turning to social media to find their targets."

It's an interesting way of raising awareness of the way social media power-users are giving away far more information than they may have bargained for. But I wonder if it breaks any privacy laws itself. We'll see.

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