Thursday, February 18, 2010

Please Dont Rob Me

A site called Please Rob Me has been created by some website developers in Holland. It claims to provide a list of empty homes based on what people post online. The information is extracted from Twitter feeds when people post their whereabouts. Apparently it's been done to highlight the risks of location-sharing through social networks. That sounds a bit like the justification used by sites that expose software security flaws - and we all know where that has led to. Whatever, the site's existence does have some implications for we radio amateurs.

As radio hams our addresses are known via callbooks and sites such as QRZ.com. So we need to be careful about revealing when we are going to be away from home in our blogs and mailing list postings. It is sometimes hard to resist posting about the preparations you are making to take a radio on holiday. And if you take a netbook on holiday it is clearly unwise to post blog updates while you are there, frustrating though that may be. But even if you are careful yourself, it is hard to stop other people from inadvertently revealing online that you are away from home. Someone might post that they worked you while you were on holiday, for example. And if you're involved in a DXpedition or giving a talk at some ham radio event then the clues are there for someone to work out when you won't be at home.

The increasing popularity of APRS to show your whereabouts reveals not only when you are away from home but how long it would take you to get back there, much more effectively than any Twitter feed. I would like to point out to any burglars reading that I am married, so just because my APRS position shows I am out of the house does not mean that no-one is at home. Most ham radio activities tend to involve just one member of the family, so it's wrong to assume that just because a licensed amateur is away, his home QTH is empty. I guess that goes for Twitter feeds too, unless it's really true that the only people who use Twitter are geeks who live alone.

Perhaps I should be more careful about turning APRS on, and use it only when I am off on some hike with a radio into the mountains, on my own.
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