Where R U? Tech-Savvy Burglars Want To Know

Just a few years ago, burglars might lurk in the bushes or a parked car and wait to see a family leave their house, or turn out the lights. But in this day and age, all you have to do is send a Tweet. A new site, PleaseRobMe.com, reposts such tweets by Twitter users who disclose when they're away from home. Host Scott Simon speaks with Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center about Internet privacy and security.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Just a few years ago, burglars might lurk in the bushes or a parked car and wait to see a family leave their house, or turn out the lights. But in this day and age, all you have to do is send a tweet. At Gene and Georgetti's on Franklin what's better: chicken Vesuvio or lasagna?

A new site: PleaseRobMe.com, created by three men in the Netherlands reposts such tweets by Twitter users who disclose when they're away from home. The site's founders say their goal is to raise awareness about risky information on the Internet.

Ginger McCall is staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. They study emerging privacy issues. She joins us from her office in Washington, D.C.

Ms. McCall, thanks for being with us.

Ms. GINGER MCCALL (Staff Counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center): Thank you very much for having me.

SIMON: Have you seen PleaseRobMe.com? How does it work?

Ms. MCCALL: When you arrive at the site, the front page lists people's tweets as to where they are. And it's funny because it'll actually refresh and it'll say, you know, Five new opportunities have been posted, as in five new opportunities to rob someone have been posted.

SIMON: And this is someone, for example, who says I've gone Garrett's Popcorn Shop on Clark.

Ms. MCCALL: Yeah, and it has the user name and then the update. And sites like this create a kind of two-fold opportunity for people who want to do bad things. First, it lets them know where youre not, which is your home. And second, it lets them know where you are. You know, if youre out at a bar late at night, you know, and you check in there or youre out at a restaurant after dark and you check in there. I mean...

SIMON: Well, won't people do that to invite people in their following to meet them there?

Ms. MCCALL: Its true. And I think that maybe what they dont realize is that, you know, it's not just your friends that read that; anyone can read that. It's out there.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Forgive me for not knowing, but who owns the information that people post on social networking sites?

Ms. MCCALL: I mean I would assume that the social networking sites own it then, once you post it. I know that Facebook has frequently claimed that it owns your information once it's posted.

SIMON: It is public.

Ms. MCCALL: It is public.

SIMON: So people can't, I guess, complain that their privacy rights are being...

Ms. MCCALL: I think that there's still room for complaint, especially in regards to things like Facebook. Because, you know, the company doesnt necessarily put it out there that this information that youre posting is going to be publicly available to everyone. When youre on your e-mail, the people that youre interacting with, that's supposed to be private. You know, only you know who you interact with on e-mail - you and that person.

When youre on Facebook and you face information up, youre supposed to be able to filter that information - make it friends only, not make it publicly available. But the problem that we're seeing with these services is that they tend to change their practices. And then, you know, users are left essentially with their pants down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I'm just imagining a tweet: Pants down, thoughts?

Gina McCall, staff counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, thanks so much.

Ms. MCCALL: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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