Saturday, December 19, 2015

Don’t leave a digital roadmap when you leave for the holidays

Are you are going away for the holidays and do you plan to share your adventures via social media? There is a group who will pay rapt attention – and most importantly – when you will be home.


I’ve always found it unsettling how much information about being away from home some share online. Recently, a young couple we know avidly documenting their cruise.

Another friend, who travels frequently on business, uses Tripit to manage his various itineraries. Tripit will share your travels to Facebook, if you choose. I always know when he is leaving, and I am alerted when he’s on his way home. I worry about the wife and teenage daughters when he leaves at home.

A recent Facebook post from county police confirmed the danger of sharing your travel information online. It points out posts mentioning travel or showing check-ins at airports or airline lounges can indicate travel – to bad guys.

And social media sites like to post your location, as given away by the GPS in your phone. While it is an option, many people may not know it is on or have forgotten they left it on. The bad guys will see you are not at home and know precisely where you are. From that, they can easily deduce the soonest you will be home and the amount of time they have to gain access to your home.

This puts your belongings in danger as well as anyone still in your home, should burglars break in, expecting the home to be empty.

Your phone also records the location photos are taken directly into the photo. Facebook and Twitter do strip that data out of photos before it posts them. But if you send someone a photo, or share it on a photo site like Flickr, if will have that data embedded in the photo. That data is easily retrievable with free apps or displayed right along with the photo on a photo website.

Even if you are careful to block location data, the photo of you standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, or Niagara Falls is a dead giveaway to your location.

Thieves are adept at searching Facebook looking for public posts you might have made showing you are away. Are the posts you make for just your friends or are they visible to the public? You may think it is to friends, but Facebook's settings are byzantine and easy to get wrong. You may not know who is seeing your posts.

A common setting is to allow not only your friends to see your posts, but also the friend of friends. Who knows what some of your friends’ friends are about?

Even leaving the house for a few hours can make you vulnerable. Ever note in Facebook you’re watching a film at a theater, or brag you are at a concert, or a NASCAR race?

So what can you do?

Don’t post while away from home. Wait until you are home to post photos or even mention you’ve been away. That lets you choose the best photos and make a cohesive story from the many photos you have taken. If you store your photos at Google Photos, its assistant will even produce a photo story for you a day or two after you are back.

And avoid posts before you go saying you’ll be gone and off social media for a while.

You can also change your Facebook settings so only friends see your posts and not friends of friends. As I said before, Facebook settings are tricky and it is easy to make an error. And, Facebook is but one social service you may be using.

Finally, to judge how widely your posts are getting out there, reverse stalk yourself.

That is, use an Incognito Tab on your browser and Google your name, your name and employer, your name and city etc., to see what others can find out about you.

The Incognito Tab does not send cookies to Facebook and others telling them who you are, so it makes for a search as someone else would see it.

Safe travels – and hopefully a happy return to a secure home.

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