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 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.


Dick said...

Very good advice!

Paul Stam PAØK said...

I never tell on my blog when I go away or with holidays. It is indeed a real threat. 73 Paul

Lynn (D) said...

I'm still confused by how this is more of an issue than the two job families where EVERYONE is gone for the ENTIRE day, FIVE days of the week?

Just like the hiker putting on his running shoes as the bear is coming up fast (I just have to run faster than you), my main goal is to be a less appealing target than the neighbors. This includes having an alarm system that alerts the world (and the would-be thief) that s/he HAS been noticed!

If I had a Ferrari or Jaguar in the garage or a multi-thousand dollar HDTV, I might be worried, but any burglar that breaks in my house is going to be extremely disappointed by his (lack of) haul.

Sorry, I'm not ready to turn off the trackers yet. There's a whole bunch of easier targets than providing the information that "I'm not home right now, please come rob me"...

GW0KIG said...

I think its unwise to mention on the web when you're away. Is not something I mention on the air either- you never know who is listening! I agree if you are out and about during the day it is possible that someone else is at home, partner, kids etc. But certainly to mention a holiday for example does seem risky.

73 De Kevin

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hi Julian, it's an eyeopener for some people. At least I feel warned. Of course it's common sense you don't write on the blog you're away. But sometimes you don't think about that.
73, Bas

Steve GW7AAV said...

Good advice Julian. Fortunately even when I am not at home there are more often than not three big burly lads who used to be into marshal arts here. Then once they get past them and the attack dogs there is the snake pit and piranhas. If all else fails there is the XYL who is a crack shot and the mother in law who is a dab hand at turning people to stone with a steely stare.