February 22, 2010, 8:10 AM — Last week Mike Elgan wrote a blog post for ITworld called How to rob somebody using Google Buzz in which he outlines a nice system for burglars to rip off people who use Buzz to broadcast their location. (He claims similar services such as Fourquare, Gowalla or Yelp are less effective because Buzz pinpoints people nearby, but you could use these services too by searching checkins at nearby locations.) Elgan also references the ridiculous site, PleaseRobMe, which also wants to convince you not to broadcast your location.
I'm not going to knock Elgan's burglaring system. I'm sure it would work in some cases. It does assume that everyone who lives in a particular residence moves around as a single unit, which certainly isn't true for everyone. And that they don't have an alarm system, a dog, or nosy neighbors. And that the person targeted has something worth stealing; I think if I was serious enough about burglary to follow his system I'd be serious enough to want to target the residences of older, established people rather that the younger folk who most often use these services.
What I do disagree with is that people in the business of robbing houses have to go to this much trouble in order to determine that a residence is empty. All they really have to do is wait until 9:30 am on a workday. The best way to rob an apartment in my complex would be to roll up with a moving truck in the middle of the day. People are always moving in and out and no one pays any attention or knows who lives where. What Elgan and the other fear-mongers are saying is that any time we leave our homes, we're putting up a big "Take our stuff" sign out front. That may be true, but it isn't any more true today than it was twenty years ago.
I came across a really amusing post at Waxy.org today, Regarding Foursquare and Please Rob Me in which author Andy Baio points out that this isn't a new problem. People have been pointing out what a boon to criminals new technology is since widespread adoption of answering machines. And before that it was wedding announcements in the local paper. A couple is getting married and going on honeymoon? Perfect time to rob them. You don't need tech to figure out when a home is going to be empty. Oh and while we're at it, comic books/rock & roll/D&D/video games are corrupting the youth of America. Let's not lose focus on that!
My point is, we're always manufacturing new threats to worry about. With the introduction of Buzz, Google is an easy target. Everyone loves to get in a shot at a big successful company. I just don't believe Buzzing your location is going to significantly increase the odds of getting burgled.