It has become the normal protocol these days: If you’re going to go out for a fun time, you’re going to share the news with your friends on Facebook by either updating your status or tagging yourself at a location.
When is the last time you went somewhere without either reaching for your phone or having one of your friends tag you? It has probably been a while.
If you happen to be one of the people who aren’t familiar with location tagging, here’s the quick break down: “Location Tagging” refers to a phone’s built-in GPS device that pinpoints and displays the location of users anytime they arrive at a new location and “tag” themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or similar social networks.
Why do people use this feature? Because it’s fun to share what you’ve got going on, but giving away your location every time you are out of the house can also have dire consequences. When you, your friends or your children use Facebook or any other site that can tag a location, your home, possession and safety might be at risk.
If you are on vacation, the location tag will let everyone know your family is currently out of town and that your house is presumably unoccupied. There have been hundreds of stories recently of robbers who used information they got from the Internet to prey on empty houses.
One such case was highlighted in a segment on CNN. Keri McMullen shared a simple status that let her friends know she was going to a concert with her fiancé. Burglars who got wind of this status, called the venue to find out what time the show was starting and broke into the McMullens’ house 35 minutes after they left for the concert. By the time the couple got back home, $11,000 worth of personal property was gone.
And Location Tags aren’t the only danger. Even if you, your friends or your kids don’t tag photos, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can still give away your location. These sites automatically list the time and date when the photo was uploaded, and the image itself can clearly let people know you’re not home.
For example, if you take a photo at Disney World and immediately post it on Facebook, your Facebook friends will see Mickey Mouse and the Monorail, and immediately know that your family is out of town. In fact, if you continue to upload photos, they will be able to track your entire vacation. It might seem like harmless fun —allowing others to share in your vacation— but if your friends comment on a photo, their friends see it on their Facebook feed. Within minutes, thousands of people you don’t know can learn the one thing you don’t want anybody to know: you are not at home.
Let’s face it—phones and computers are complicated devices. They come with a new set of rules, guidelines and responsibilities that we have to adhere to in order to make sure we aren’t putting ourselves, our families or our friends in harm’s way.
It’s important to be aware of the dangers of “Location Tagging” and photo posting, and if you have kids, it’s even more important to help them understand the significance of their actions on these social networking sites. Make sure you know how to turn off Location Tagging — it’s in the “Privacy Settings” section on Facebook, under the same menu you would use for logging out of the account.