In your past few newsletters you mentioned that you were on a trip to down under. I wonder whether this is good practice. Lately there has been some rumor
here about an internet site that mentions who is at home and who is not, based on public information they gather from the internet. They do this just to show how volatile people make themselves for burglary, just by tweeting around where they hang out. And although this site does it just to show and warn people (or at least they say so), others do the same thing for less altruistic reasons. And you helped them a great deal: shouting aloud “I’m not home!” Wouldn’t it be worth to spend an article about this?
I’ve actually had a couple of people ask me this since I returned from my three week trip to Australia and New Zealand.
It is something I considered before I left, so it was indeed a decision I made rather than an accident.
I’ll share some of my thoughts.
There’s been a fair amount of talk recently about sites that collect publicly available information about you – most frequently Twitter tweets, since those are the most current – to determine quite literally if you’re at home, or not.
It sounds kinda scary, though of course it’s not really anything new. The “newness” is the ease and the ubiquity with which the information can be gathered and shared. And, to be honest, many people – particularly adolescents – do over-share information in public forums. If nothing else, the publicity has been a good reminder to all that what you post publicly is … well … public. Anyone can see it.
I do think it’s important that you realize just that: everything that you say publicly, regardless of where you say it, could be collected and patterns discerned. If in one venue you say “I made my springtime in Maui reservations, whoo hoo!” and then in some other location say “I’m out of the office until May 3rd” it’s not that hard for someone who cares to put two and two together.
If they care, that is. More on “caring” in a moment.
In my case, I was faced with a very pragmatic reality: it wasn’t going to be feasible to “hide” the fact that I was going to be out for 3 weeks. That’s part of the cost, if you will, of having a public persona, a very public venue like Ask Leo!, and a relatively rigorous publishing schedule. Clearly something was going to be pretty obvious the first week I was away.
Similarly, I also wanted to share the trip while it was in progress – not only with friends and family, but with Ask Leo! readers and fans. Nothing’s going to say “he’s not home” like a picture of me in front of the Sydney, Australia Starbucks. There’s also no way I could have had the meetups that I enjoyed without letting people know that I was going to be there, and not here at home.
All in all, “hiding” the fact that I was traveling just wasn’t practical.
So, caution and precaution were the operative words.
- My home wasn’t empty for three weeks. It was occupied continuously. It also had 5 dogs in it – including several good barkers (we’re up to 6 now). Having our border act as house and pet sitter was, in fact, something that enabled us to take this lengthy a trip to begin with. I also tried to drop these facts into the public stream of information about my trip.
- We know our neighbors. As silly as that sounds, it’s not true for many communities. Before I left not only did my immediate neighbors get somewhat overloaded with information, so did the house sitter. Everyone knew everyone else, and all knew to simply keep an eye out.
- I’m not impossible to find, but I also don’t make it too easy. For example, if you do a domain registration search on ask-leo.com and you’ll find a post office box in Woodinville, not my home address. Yes, this is a kind of “security by obscurity” that I often talk about as a bad thing – and by itself it would be. Obscurity can, however, add a layer of complexity to a more complete plan.
- I’m not convinced anyone would care. Most home break-ins are crimes of opportunity, rather than targeted attacks. It’s extremely unlikely that my neighborhood burglar subscribes to Ask Leo! – or even cares to use a computer at all. That’s not to say that they aren’t out there, but it does mean that anything I might say publicly isn’t something that they’d be likely to see or use.
Finally – and this is going to sound pollyanna-ish to some but … I’m just not that concerned. I don’t doubt that crime happens, or that it even happens in my neighborhood – I know that it does. But I also know that news is “news”, because by definition, it’s out of the ordinary. Something is newsworthy because it doesn’t happen all the time. Crime in our area does make news, and that’s because it’s uncommon.
That’s not to say I don’t think it’ll happen to me, it just means that the chances of it happening are comparatively low.
It’s also not to say that I didn’t take precautions – I did, including the things I listed above and a few more I haven’t mentioned. I certainly didn’t ignore the possibility.
But I also didn’t allow it to cause me to be afraid. Thoughtful and considered? Absolutely. Afraid? Not at all.
Let’s face it – something could just as easily happen now that I’m home.
The biggest lesson here, as far as I’m concerned, not to stop posting publicly, and it’s also not to ignore the consequences of what you post. Rather, it’s to make what you post publicly a decision rather than an accident. Be aware of what you say, how you say it, and to whom. Understand the actual, practical – not sensationalized – risks involved and decide how you want to deal with them.
And then act accordingly.
We had a great trip.