HouseEvery day you hear more reasons to be careful about posting personal or inappropriate information on the Internet because it lasts forever, you never know who might see it, and on and on. People often worry about the professional implications of their Internet activity, but now there is more reason to worry about personal safety.

A few weeks ago, three men were arrested for burglarizing eighteen homes in Nashua, New Hampshire, and they knew the residents weren’t home because they had posted Facebook updates indicating as much. Of course, this only works if the burglars know where the poster lives, or if Facebook users post and allow others to see their personal addresses. In fact, a website called Please Rob Me, set out to raise awareness about this issue by featuring over-sharing posts from Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking sites. The site now has a message stating, “We are satisfied with the attention we’ve gotten for an issue that we deeply care about,” and lists articles about personal safety for concerned visitors to check out.

Even scarier, you may be revealing more information than you think when post photos from your GPS-equipped smartphone or digital camera. Photos taken with these devices contain geotags — data that indicates the longitude and latitude where the photo was taken — and most people don’t know that the geographical information gets posted along with the photo on sites like Twitter, Flickr, and Youtube. Geotags, however, aren’t uploaded on Facebook or some dating sites because of an incidental effect of the encryption used in formatting photos. Although there are ways to disable this feature on most phones, it sometimes also disables all GPS capabilities, it can require some serious technological skill, and again, most people don’t even know it exists.

Facebooks users who willfully post about their activities have no excuse when their homes are burglarized as a result, but what about someone who posts a photo while on vacation, allowing tech-savvy criminals to discover their whereabouts? Or the celebrity who unwittingly reveals the location of her home to potential stalkers? These are the kinds of personal invasions which could lead to serious harm and potential lawsuits in the future. For now, think about the consequences before you post.

Sarah Duncan

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