E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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I Have Been Robbed – Social Computing Paranoia or Valid Concern?

I wasn’t really sure whether it would be a good idea, or not, to put together this blog post. But I thought I needed to reflect some more on something that happened to me a couple of days ago; and here I am… I have been robbed.

Last weekend, on Saturday late afternoon (Between 5 PM and 7 PM, approximately) someone broke into my house and stole a few things. It must have been rather quick, or sloppy, or the thief got "interrupted", because the damage could have been a lot worse than what it was eventually. So far I am "only" missing my Nokia N95 (Over two and a half years old and which I will thoroughly miss!), my 32 GB iPod Touch (Over a year old & with my entire music collection in it! Ouch!) and an iPod Classic (Nearly 4 years old & one of the backups I had for that music collection. Still got another one though! Phew!). The rest seems to be all there. Intact.

However, while I have been putting together some more security measures in place, I just couldn’t help thinking quite a bit about a recent article that my fellow IBM colleague Bill Sweeney put together under the title "Social Media paranoia or valid concern?". It is a rather interesting, short and incredibly provocative article that comes to question how much information we should actually be sharing about our own private lives, and surroundings!, in the various social software tools available out there.

Bill brings in some very valid points, specially when you come to think about the fact that while the thief was "busy" I was just enjoying a "stunning long walk along one of my favourite places on the very south of the island" and "chilling out while watching the sun set … Priceless!". Now, if you have been following me for a while in various social software tools, you would realise how I don’t get to share plenty of stuff that relates to my private life. A long while ago I decided that some things should remain private, specially such personal matters that relate to me and those around me. And only those.

But, funny enough, the first time that I decided to share a couple of tweets on something I was doing over the course of the weekend, someone "decides" to break into my flat and take away a few things. Coincidence? Pure luck? Actually, bad luck? Paranoia? I’m not sure, but it surely makes you think about things, don’t you think?

Around the area where I live there doesn’t seem to be many more people tweeting away. Perhaps one or two other folks and that’s about it! So I guess that makes all of us a potential target. Yes, I live in a very small village, where most people know one another, where there are always people around, where plenty of things don’t go by unnoticed, yet for that two hour period no one showed up, no one noticed, except the wrong person.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I tend to think that it was actually bad luck and it was just pure coincidence that I was out of the house while the incident took place. However, I still think that Bill puts it very nicely under this particular quote:

"The more information about me that I aggregate and expose on the Internet, the more someone could potentially identify my physical address and perhaps take advantage of real time information that I present on the web"

That’s why from here onwards, I’m going to become a little bit more protective of what I would consider "private updates" and refrain myself a little bit from sharing them across. I’m not sure what price I would be paying in the long run for a patchy online persona in the various social software tools that I use on a regular basis, but somehow I just hope that all of my connections, relationships, friendships, etc. etc. would understand my position and adjust accordingly. I know it may be a tough thing to do, but what would you do? How far do you go in sharing those "private updates" across various different social networks? And, most importantly, would your relationship with your various connections change that much should they decide to protect some more their own private updates? What do you think?

Privacy and security have always been two very key, and important, issues to address in the world of social computing (Just as much as for many other areas!), that we probably haven’t figured them out just yet, but perhaps we should give them plenty more relevance than whatever they have been having in the past. Like I said, I don’t think it’s paranoia, maybe a slight concern, but I tend to think that it’s more along the lines of insisting on keeping some things private. Regardless of that impact it may cause. Because, after all, who wants to know all of my moves and updates? Probably, not the right people. I am sure.

(By the way, for those folks who were asking over the last couple of days, I am fine. Like I said, the thief didn’t make as much damage as it could have been, probably because the individual was in a hurry or something unexpected came up; and since this is not the first, nor the second time (And, certainly, not the last one) that I have been robbed in my life I suppose that the psychological and mental damages are not as devastating anymore as the first time your privacy and your own home get invaded. Nobody would ever get used to it, I am certain, but the initial impact hasn’t been the same. Wish things would have been different though)

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  1. Very sorry to hear about this my friend.
    I expect we’re going to see more of such stories as location based networks proliferate. I generally feel more comfortable saying where I’ve been as opposed to where I’m at. Unless I have something contextual to offer – like having a beer at Andy McAfees place with Luis 😉

  2. Wow! Sorry to hear about this invasion of your home and theft of personal goods. It really does make one stop and think about how much location and activity information is being exposed via social software. I think we all hate to clam up, but perhaps some degree of caution is in order. Just as we stop the mail and newspaper when going on vacation, we may need to be careful not to signal our absence through social channels.

    1. Precisely the advise I was going to offer. When I was blogging, and now with Facebook, I file post action reports only for this exact reason. You wouldn’t put a sign out front advertising your absence from home – but that’s what up to the moment tweets are. Still – sorry to hear some vile person took advantage in this way. Big L for them.

  3. Luis, I have been positing the same issues for some time now but few take heed or want to discuss it in the limelight from the stage.
    Afraid it might kill the social media mavens I guess.
    Sadly an open world leaves one open to the good and bad of it.
    If it helps I am happy to pass along any music from my collection you miss.
    I’ve been robbed before and it happens, but at least you and your family/friends were safe.

  4. This is of concern to many of us ‘declarative living’ types. I have similar mixed feelings about public vs private but am careful within my own comfort zone about posting about/from my residence. Plus I do employ guard dogs and my neighbors are armed to the teeth.

  5. Thanks Sameer for sharing the link in twitter.

    All makes sense to me Luis. That’s why you won’t see me tweeting “off to San Jose for the week” when my wife and kids are home alone. I’m less cautious with fb because I have my privacy settings locked down to a trusted circle. Still risky though.

  6. I had a similar experience many years ago. Pre-Web 2.0: My house was burglarized during the exact hour that I was speaking at a well-publicized conference out of town. I know this because my wife, thankfully, had just left the house at that time, and returned 45 minutes later to a ransacked apartment. Probably coincidence, but it does give one pause….

    Since then, as Harold suggested, I’ve preferred to talk about what I did vs what I’m doing or going to do whenever possible. Call me paranoid, but I view publicly posting items like future travel plans as fairly risky activity. You never know who’s watching, and there are clever and desperate people out there these days….

  7. Luis – So sorry to hear about this. Yes, you’re lucky it wasn’t worse, but there are very few feelings quite as distasteful as knowing someone was in your house, without you there . . . let alone that they have taken some of your things as well.

    A few years ago, when we adopted our oldest daughter, I started a blog to record our journey. It wasn’t long before I realized I really didn’t want to be sharing pictures of my child, my house, and other personal things that anyone could have access to. The only other choice was to limit it to merely those I allowed access to and, as I reflected on it, I decided it wasn’t really my choice to make. It’s her life I was putting out there.

    As far as tweeting, FB, and the like are concerned, I suspect a little discretion is necessary and we’ll just have to live with it. I hesitate to think how this will affect tweeting from conferences. I am hopeful I can sell the concept so my company will open up our firewall a bit more.

    I will, however, be a bit more careful now that you’ve brought it to my attention. Once again, very sorry you had to experience this. Not pleasant.


  8. One other thing – I found that overall, talking about the burglary back then was a negative experience. A few people were sympathetic, while others were overly judgmental, automatically assuming I had somehow brought this misfortune on myself. Perhaps it’s and American cultural thing or maybe I hang out with the wrong people :). I’d be interested to hear your overall reaction is so far, aside from the supportive comments here.

  9. Luis, sorry to hear you might have experienced the downside of my social computing paranoia. I hate to think the worst of people, but I know there are those that exploit the positive things in life. Your blog post makes this all the more real.

    Keith, regarding college students, most of my warnings tend to be about the Internet content that follows them to a job interview. This is certainly another scenario for everyone to consider.

  10. Oh Luis so sorry to hear you were robbed!

    @Mark Stevens I like the point you raise, that we are not only responsible for our own security but those around us as well. I wonder if many other men think about that or consult with their partners/family first to ask what they would prefer?

  11. @bill yes the interview background, always focusing on the bad but you can’t scrub it all away.
    this at least they can be better proactive, post after its done is a good route.
    Just a downside to some great progress.

  12. I’m sorry to hear about this. Precisely I don’t tweet about things I’m going to do outside of home nor if I’m actually out there. Mostly I post things that I already did.

    For the rest, I try to never disclose pictures with family or the house, nor mention any data that could be used for a bad purpose.

  13. I’m so sorry you were robbed. It’s less about the things taken and more about the feeling of violation is how I felt when I was robbed. I also think you’re right to consider how this impacts your privacy in social media. Much like we grew up not broadcasting to strangers our address, so do I also believe a certain amount of discretion online is also called for. Not everyone has bad intentions, but alas enough do. So whether it’s limiting my TripIt or Facebook updates to closest networks, or only connecting with people on LinkedIn whom I’ve actually met in person, to not always microblogging my current location (you won’t see me on those GPS-updated mobile apps auto-microblogging my coordinates anytime soon), I think it’s only safe to take some precautions in this Wild Wild West of social media.

  14. I’ve always wondered about why some people never thought twice about publishing their daily plans (especially related to travel). As many of the people who’ve responded above have mentioned, even I’ve generally considered sharing only past information when it comes to traveling. What happened to you is terrible and I hope you are able to recover from it soon and get all your “music” back in place. Take care…

  15. Luis, thanks for pointing me to this post. Very timely for me as I was getting more and more excited about Tripit, Yelp, Foursquare and how they are all syncing with LinkedIn, Facebook…I like the idea of friends finding out that I happen to be in the same city they are, but will definitely keep this post in mind as I move forward. Thanks!

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