A Private Phone is a Happy Phone

I wrote last week about fears that posting your vacation plans can tip off burglars to hit your house. Because technology moves so quickly, those fears almost seem out-of-date already. This comes from concerns about the location data our phones and other devices provide for Facebook Places, Foursquare, Google Latitude, and others.

For a quick overview of two sides of this issue, see a very good Wired magazine article about how your phone can give away your location and tag your social media with it and a new analysis from Mainstreet.com.

Get to know the privacy settings for your phone and service provider as well as for your apps.  Look here for a good list of tips.  But – security experts say that the basic location data from your device may be available regardless of how you change your options. Perhaps we’re learning to live with this (as the Mainstreet article indicates) but living with new technology doesn’t have to mean giving up your safety and security.

The trend is to less and less privacy. A new phone app called Color has been designed with no privacy at all. It shares your photo’s with any other Color user you come into proximity with. In a CNET interview, the founder stated, “You’ll see their pictures; you’ll see their life; it’s all public…everything they take, you have; everything you take, they have.”

Here is Apple’s response to recent events. Apple Officially Responds to Location Tracking Controversy

Being safe requires being aware. The basis of crime prevention is really risk assessment and decisions we make about trade-offs.

If you are someone who uploads pics to Flickr and is very connected through social media, you can still cut down on how much real info you share (your home address and your exact travel plans) and you can make good use of traditional burglary prevention strategies such as those described last week.

And like the case of making it harder for burglars discussed last week, if your phone’s information isn’t easy to get into, and other data you upload, like photo’s, is limited to your friends, a criminal who is trying these avenues will prefer to go on to one of the other 100,000 phones in the area to find easier pickings.

Another risk assessment is to consider what is the possible harm you face in a situation – in this case location information through your phone. Being as risk-averse as I am (friends say paranoid), I would never say we’re perfectly safe. But I will suggest that the location information from your phone doesn’t put you in a classic risk situation. For example, it doesn’t increase the chance you’ll be mugged. Or that your credit card number will be stolen.

“Ahh,” you say, what about burglary — because as the Wired article said, a person could figure out where you live. And if they see you at Starbucks, for example, they know you’re not home so they could decide to burglarize your house. This is where another element of risk assessment comes in and that is the odds that someone who (a) knows how to get the information, (b) will want to do so and that they have (c) the means and (d) motive to follow through in a way that (e) harms you. Now we’re talking very, very low odds. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a burglar who had a smart phone that worked. And reliable transportation to get to your house. And the work ethic to put this all together and act on the spot to commit a burglary from cell phone location data.

So should you monitor how your phone collects and shares information? Yes. Will your phone get you burglarized? No.

Share your thoughts and Stay safe,

Sgt. Mitchell

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