Tweeting and Burglary: Anatomy of a Meme

A persistent little warning has been making the rounds of the Web and social networks: Advertising your location on Twitter, FourSquare and other real-time services could lead to increased homeowners’ insurance rates. It has all the perfect qualities of an Internet meme–superficial plausibility, mild scariness, and a total lack of any evidence behind this.

The whole thing seems to have gotten started in mid-February when a site called PleaseRobMe.com appeared. It posted tweets, many generated from FourSquare, that advertised account holders’ current locations and thus announced that their homes were likely to be unoccupied and thus available for burgling. “The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc.,” PleaseRobMe declared. “Because all this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information.”

Then the British insurance-comparison site Confused.com weighed in with an article “How ‘tweeting’ can put your home at risk.” Along with such commonsense advice as locking your doors when out and not leaving keys under the doormat, Confused said: “Home insurance providers assessing claims are starting to take information revealed on the sites into account, noting that “we may, in the future, see insurers declining claims if they believe the customer is negligent.”

Next up was the Daily Telegraph with an article the warned: “Using Facebook or Twitter ‘could raise your insurance premiums by 10pc’.” The quote in the headline turned out to be speculation by Darren Black, head of home insurance at Confused, who on his own site had only said that insurers might consider posts as evidence of negligence in adjusting claims. This set off a way of posts all over the Web, such as this Computerworld story that warned, “Insurers may raise your home insurance premiums if you use social networking.”

So what exactly do we have here. No one has pointed to a single case where someone was robbed as a result of posting location information on any social network. No one has found an insurance company taking any actions on either claims or premiums as a result of such postings, though Computerworld did find a spokesperson at Britain’s Legal & General to say “this social networking trend is clearly one that is making home insurers sit up and take notice.” And the warnings have morphed from sensible if hopefully unnecessary advice about home security to the idea that participating in social networking puts you home and your insurance policy at risk.

I don’t tweet my real-time location much, mostly because I may be one of the last people on earth who values a measure of privacy (and I don’t want to pester followers with annoying FourSquare announcements.) But if burglars really want to know, if  neither car is out front chances are no one is home.

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One Response to “Tweeting and Burglary: Anatomy of a Meme”

  1. Hugo Says:

    Your last sentence made me crack up in a huge laugh, and is a nice way to summarize the absurdity of the whole thing. I don’t myself tweet my localization and my profile only mentions my city, and that is good enough I think.

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