New Web 2.0 Shopping List for Burglars?

New gadget site gdgt, a wiki and social network for the gadgeterati, looks promising in many ways. It has instant gadget-geek cred from founders Peter Rojas, founder of Gizmodo and Engadget, and Ryan Block, former Engadget editor-in-chief. And it seems a well architected and executed site that’s fun and easy to use.

One feature of the site got me thinking about potential concerns: on your profile, which is publicly viewable, you can list what gadgets you have or want.

gdgt widget

A friend of mine tweeted a link to his profile, asking if others were using the service. Looking at his profile and list of gadgets he has, I realized it would be fairly easy for someone looking at the leave-in-your-home gadgets to not only find his address but also know when he wasn’t home—the perfect opportunity for a burglary.

His profile shows his real name, but even if it didn’t, he uses the same username across many services. A quick search on that username brings up a site with his address actually listed, but several other ways to find his name (for which Google gives his address) or get GPS coordinates for what’s likely his home (flickr) and get his address that way. And he regularly broadcasts through brightkite and twitter that he’s at locations away from home.

Now it’s a bit of a leap from being able to track down this information for one person versus a thief scanning for high-value targets in a given area, but the right set of scripts could likely make this feasible. And the audience for this site is going to tend toward people who use a variety of online services.

Beyond thieves, this could also be a data-mining bonanza for surreptitious marketers. My friend hasn’t added anything to his Want list on gdgt, (which could only be because he hasn’t gotten around to it,) but that’s marketing data gold, right there. Of course, would that really be a bad thing for someone to be able to market to me what I’ve explicitly stated I want? Opinions vary, I’m sure.

Now, I’m not trying to discourage people from using gdgt or other online services. I may sign up on gdgt; I haven’t decided yet. But this should serve as another reminder that the more we publicize our lives online, the more potential there is for people to connect the dots in ways we hadn’t anticipated. At the same time, there are benefits for many of us to maintaining a consistent online identity across these kinds of services. It’s not an easy issue to resolve.

What do you think? Thinking of trying gdgt? Have any strategies you use to balance online presence and privacy?

In any case, don’t worry you-know-who-you-are friend of mine, I’m not going to break into your house—I already have a Wii.

Update: There’s already a discussion about this on the gdgt discussion board. If you want step-by-step instructions for how to do this type of casing or ideas for easier ways to steal electronics, check it out. Oh, and there’s also some good discussions in the thread about the real level of risk and some other ethical issues.

1 reply
  1. Dave Scbumaker
    Dave Scbumaker says:

    This type of thing has come up a few times since we launched gdgt. Really, I think most people are being overly paranoid when they bring this up. There’s a few things to consider:
    1.) Who is to say that a user is being truthful in what they list?

    2.) If you have a potential robber who is both smart enough to match you to a gdgt profile and also knows where you live, you already have a much bigger problem than a simple list of your gadgets.

    3.) You’re not more special or unique than someone else who has the same gadgets that you own. There’s no reason to think that your HDTV or iPhone is more valuable that another user.

    4.) You are not forced to make a gadget list when you join the gadget, nor are you required to enter any personal information. The gadget list is only one aspect of the site, and there are many other things you can do on the site without creating a list.

    We also recently updated our FAQ to help address these concerns.

    Won’t someone just look at my profile to case me for a robbery?
    We take privacy very seriously, and when joining gdgt we do not require you provide or display any information about your overall location (like country / postal code). It might also go without saying, but we do not collect your home address or any exact geolocation data for a variety of reasons. That said, it’s still up to you to protect your offline privacy, just as you would on any other site.

    Now, it’s worth noting that if someone is already looking to commit a crime and already knows where you live, you’ve already got a much bigger issue at hand than what’s on your gadget list. However, if you’re still really concerned, making your gadget list is only one aspect of gdgt, and it’s not required to use the site. There’s still plenty of value to get out of gdgt without creating your list.

    Dave Schumaker
    gdgt community manager
    twitter: @daveschumaker

    Questions, comments, or suggestions?

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