• A new website shows how you may be putting yourself and your belongings in danger while using popular "location sharing" tools
  • The web, especially social networking sites, can also lead to embarrassing moments
  • Use care when using the web, and be aware there's probably someone nearby willing to post something "funny" about you
  • Have fun, but be safe, too
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    Many of us - in fact millions of us - use the internet everyday for all sorts of reasons, entertainment being only one of them. The problem is, sometimes we get unwanted attention on the internet.

    Do You "Share Locations?"

    Tools and programs like Google buzz and foursquare let you tell your friends and family where you are exactly at any given moment. It's called a "check-in" when you share your location. Typically, you use your phone or other mobile device, and many users post their check-ins on popular social networking sites, like Twitter. It can be fun tracking where your friends are and what they're what doing, right?

    The problem is people other than your friends and family easily can find out where you are, too. And a new website, jokingly named PleaseRobMe.com, showed you just how easy it is. The site collected check-ins from Twitter and other sites, and they were in real-time. The site labeled check-ins as "new opportunities" or "recently emptied homes."

    The site wasn't intended to help would-be thieves. Rather, it was meant to make a point: We're making ourselves targets for crime without knowing it. Thieves and scammers use the internet, too, and telling them you're not home invites disaster.

    As of mid-April 2010, the site has stopped providing this information because the site's operators were satisfied they'd made their point.

    New Threats

    It doesn't mean the danger's past, though. Facebook is getting in on this action. Sometime in April 2010, it's expected to unveil a "location update" tool that will give your precise location in real-time, if you so choose to share it. If you do, it'll be treated like any other post you make on Facebook - everyone and anyone can see it.

    And you don't even need to use a location-sharing tool to create a danger. Just ask Twitter fan Israel Hyman. He posted tweets about leaving for vacation with his family, and later tweeted when he was hundreds of miles from home. His house was robbed while he was on vacation.

    No one's telling you not to use location sharing tools, but you need to understand the dangers. Before leaving for vacation would you put a "Vacant" sign in your front yard? Do you really want other people to know your family is at home alone while you're on a business trip? Does every Facebooker need to know where your teenage daughter is?

    These tools can be a lot of fun, and useful, but they need to be used carefully.

    Did You See (fill in the blank) on the Web?!

    Practically everyone everywhere is somehow connected to the internet. Many of us carry some sort of device that lets us capture pictures, video, and sound, and post them immediately to our favorite site, whether it's a personal website or one of the popular social networking sites. The potential for embarrassing or unflattering material showing up online is ever-present.

    There's no shortage of amusing stories and anecdotes captured on, caused by, or helped along by social networking sites, but here's a sampling:

    • A university professor was suspended from her job because she posted comments - meant to be jokes - on her Facebook page that she was looking for a "hit man" and considered it a "good day" when she didn't have the urge to kill a student
    • In England, an employee and avid Facebook fan posted a seething message about how much she hated her job and her boss. The problem is, her boss was a "friend" on her Facebook page and he read the post. She was fired.
    • Mark Cuban, the owner of a professional basketball team, was fined $25,000 for Tweeting criticisms of referees during a game

    Aside from real-life incidents, think about the "it-could-happen" things, like:

    • High school seniors looking forward to graduating and the parties, beware. If alcohol's involved, you can bet a picture of a teenager committing the crime of underage drinking will show up on the web. And, it's possible the police will later show up at that teenager's door
    • Got a hot date but not with your spouse or significant other? Facebook and other social networking sites have helped to destroy more than one marriage and family

    What's the moral here? The internet, technology, new and fun tools, and being "connected" are all useful and entertaining. But we all need to remember where we are, what we're doing, and who's watching - or at least who's able to watch and see.

    Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I really be fired for what I say on Facebook or another site? What about my First Amendment right to free speech?
  • Can a website be held responsible for providing information to criminals that's used for a crime, like a home robbery, mugging, or stalking?
  • Does my cell phone company have to give me records of my child's Tweets if I ask for them?
  • Tagged as: Communications and Media, Privacy Law, internet privacy, privacy law lawyer