Fear makes for better television

I watch The Gruen Transfer pretty much every week. I love it. It’s funny, it’s intelligent and it’s about the industry I work in. What’s not to like?

I usually watch the catch-up version on my iPad because, well, Wednesday night is a raid night so I’m otherwise occupied. Which means I’m a little late in writing about the last episode I watched (episode 8), which wasn’t quite as intelligent as usual.

It was actually one of The Gruen Transfer’s better shows, I thought. Until it got to the segment where they talked about Omo putting GPS devices in packs sent out randomly for a competition in Brazil. The shoppers were followed home & the panel debated whether this was advertising or stalking. Which led to a discussion on social networks and location-based services.

Todd Sampson of Leo Burnett informed us all that OMG WE HAVE A LOCATION DEVICE ON OUR PERSONS RIGHT NOW. Our mobile phone. And then Todd began fanning the flames of hysteria… “They have this huge issue now around Facebook status updates, people saying they’re on vacation in their status… and as a result, robbers and thieves know you’re away. And they have a site, pleaserobmenow.com, which is basically real-time information saying ‘these people are on holidays'”.

Another panellist clarified: “The feeds from Facebook going into that website…” And Todd nodded, “…going straight into that website.”

Wrong, wrong, wrongwrongwrong.

First of all, the service that ‘powered’ pleaserobme.com (Todd got the URL wrong…) was actually a combination of Foursquare and Twitter, not Facebook. Foursquare is all about telling people where you are and what you’re doing when you’re not at home. So it wasn’t so much that people didn’t *know* that they were giving out information that said they weren’t home, it’s that they weren’t thinking about who the audience was – especially if they set up their Foursquare account to post to their Twitter account. People’s Twitter accounts are much more likely to be unprotected than Facebook or Foursquare.

Pleaserobme.com was created to make people think about concepts like “over-sharing” and “location awareness”. They wanted to raise people’s consciousness about the issue, not provide would-be-burglars with a one-stop-shop of easy targets. Sampson made it sound like there was a veritable industry out there ready and waiting to exploit the idiocy of consumers in regards to sharing their personal location. Pleaserobme.com was created to do good, not evil. Notice that I’ve used the past tense – pleaserobme.com removed all the Twitter messages because they got enough attention for “an issue that [they] deeply care about”.

This isn’t to say that people don’t get robbed because they Tweeted or Facebooked or Foursquared that they were away. Sure, it’s happened. But you can also get robbed by the taxi driver who picked you up to take you to the airport. Or by the burglars casing your neighbourhood who notice that your garbage bins have been sitting at the curb all week.

Sampson’s comments irked me because they were inaccurate and seemed intended to do nothing more than put a little bit of fear into people. He was trying to sound like an expert when really, in this area, he ain’t.

Do you need to be careful about what you post on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and who you post it to? Yes. But the world in general can be a scary place and it’s about applying the same degree of common sense you have in the offline world to the online world.

Chicken Little Todd also warned people about cookies: “They’re getting so sophisticated now, they can profile you – exactly who you are – to your home address”. Orly? My home address in a cookie? Sampson is living proof that mainstream agencies don’t get digital. Stick to talking about ads, Todd. You’re much better at it.

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