Location, Location, Location

A few days ago a new website popped up called ‘Please Rob Me’ and it got me thinking, are all these location based applications and websites a cause for concern or not? It’s certainly very exciting, so does this put a dampener on the whole thing?

If you’re new to the location based games world then let me bring you up to speed as quickly as possible. This is another one of those big ‘Internet crazes’ (Some say it could be the new Twitter or Facebook!!). Once again, the UK finds itself a little behind the US but it won’t be long before we start to catch up and see a lot of people playing these location based games. In America there are literally thousands and thousands of people online but in a town like Exeter where I’m from, in Devon, there are only a handful of people playing (all testing the water much like myself).

Here’s a really simplified overview of how these games work:

  • Via a mobile website or application, a user/player ‘checks-in’ to a location – usually a place of work/cafe/restaurant
  • User is geo-targeted by mobile device so they can only log in if they are actually in the vicinity.
  • User then gets rewards in the way of points, items and badges for checking in
  • User can choose to post this to social media sites like Twitter or Facebook – This is where much of the outrage and the idea of Please Rob Me has come from
  • Leaderboards (in some games) give a sense of competition and keep users interested (stickiness)
  • In the US, clever business owners are catching onto publicity/marketing opportunities for these games – for example, in one of the games if you check-in the most times at a location you are known as ‘The Mayor’ of that place – Cafe’s/Restaurants are rewarding these loyal customers with good deals or even freebies. In some cases, it goes further and points built up on these games can actually be traded as currency at these locations – old fashioned loyalty schemes packaged in a new and exciting way.

There are two big players in this arena with a number of other applications also using location. The two big players in town are Foursquare and Gowalla, with services like Google Buzz and Yelp also determining your position to give you location specific data or tell others where you are.

As I noted in the bullet points above, this is an exciting opportunity for savvy business owners to cash in on the new ‘mobile generation’ and over the next 12 months this will be an interesting market to watch in the UK. It’s one that I certainly intend to continue using and advising my clients on.

So – The Flipside – Should we all be frightened about using these new websites and apps? Are we really telling people when we’re not in and that we’re an easy target to burgle? My opinion is that in some ways this service opens us up to potential risk if used incorrectly. Like most services online you need to approach them with a degree of common sense, if you do this, then I don’t see why you can’t enjoy the benefits of services such as Foursquare and Gowalla and the exciting new opportunities these will bring to the UK.

I just want to throw in a few reasons why I don’t think you should be worried:

  • A lot of burglary is opportunistic – If someone is planning via Twitter and other social media sites then my guess is they are going to go to other serious lengths to get into your property anyway
  • Just because I check-in somewhere doesn’t mean my partner/housemate/dog/cat/friends aren’t at my house ready for any unsuspecting would be Twitter burglar (see my points below for word of caution)
  • A huge proportion of homes are empty in the day while people go to work – should we all stop working because we’re letting people know we are not at home?
  • If someone wants to see if you’re at home, they probably only need to walk by your house and make a few quick decisions on whether you are there or not (car there/lights etc…)
  • I would guess that a stake out of a house is far more effective than a stake out of someone’s twitter account if someone really wants to get to your property
  • A check-in doesn’t specify a time period – you could be checking in just as you leave a location and are on your way home!

The Dutch creators of Please Rob Me claim to have created the site in order to point out the risks involved in using these services – If this is the case, I personally think they should go a little further in giving some tips to users on how to minimise their risk. As they don’t, here are mine – please spread them round to people you know using these games:

  • Don’t check-in when you are at home – That tells people where you live in the first place
  • Don’t let friends and family check-in when they are at your home – See above….
  • Don’t check-in mentioning you’re with your partner/housemates – Even though you’re out and about, they may well not be
  • Don’t check-in on holiday – now that’s a risk I don’t believe is worth taking
  • If you want to be ultra cautious and as it’s not time specific, check-in when you’re just leaving the venue and on your way home

If you start playing these games, do it with a degree of common sense and have fun – the opportunities they present are fantastic.


  1. Scott Gould on 19th February 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Hey Al

    You make some really good points here. My fav is:

    “A huge proportion of homes are empty in the day while people go to work – should we all stop working because we’re letting people know we are not at home?”

    I think the fears over location-based media is that there are always a few horror stories – as there are with ANYTHING. People have been murdered in church but I still go! lol

    A large part, I think, is that its new. People were saying the same thing over putting photos online – but now they are all over the place

    • Banksy on 19th February 2010 at 5:04 pm

      I think that’s it Scott – the fact it’s a slight unknown at the moment worries the more synical of people. Its working well in the US so there is no reason in my mind it shouldn’t be big over here as well soon.

      Thanks, as always, for commenting 🙂

  2. […] use. You might remember that people were talking about Foursquare and burglaries a while ago (I wrote about it here) – this, in my opinion is far more […]

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