06/08/2013 09:57 BST | Updated 06/08/2013 09:57 BST

Summertime Blues: Social Media and Home Security


The holiday season is upon us again and for once the weather seems to be holding up, meaning that you don't have to disappear to the far-reaches of the world to find the beach weather. It might be thunderstorms and rain soon enough but enjoy it while it's here, especially if you don't have the budget to get away.

One of the sure-fire ways to know when the summertime arrives is by going onto Facebook or Twitter. Amongst the usual mix of gossip and comments about how much of an idiot Justin Bieber has been this week, you're almost certain to find people who just can't help themselves but put up their holiday and travel snaps out there for the world to see, and for their friends to seethe with envy over.

Social media and smartphone technology has improved to the point that you can pinpoint your exact location to a Facebook status or photo, or add a location to a Tweet, just as easily as you can send the message itself. This is all very well in the world of technology and social media, but not the smartest move if you're on the other side of the world and your house currently lies empty.

The days of the burglar who runs around with a SWAG bag looking for empty houses with their lights turned off are a thing of the past. A burglar who is switched onto technology and social media can pinpoint and set out a plan to rob a house without leaving their own home. Google street maps and social media make a great team if people are daft enough to give away their location - either intentionally or otherwise - and essentially invite a technologically minded burglar to help themselves.

Just recently, Corrie actress Helen Flanagan was the victim of an armed robbery that may have occurred as a direct result of her Tweeting that her boyfriend was away. What was evidently a terrifying ordeal for the celebrity might have been avoided if today's social media users weren't so readily keen to give away such personal information online.

If you're going on holiday and must update your social media chums, there are a few precautions you can make on social media platforms that lessen the odds of you being targeted by these technologically able thieves.

  1. Make your Facebook profile a closed one - this way anybody who isn't Friends with you won't be able to access your profile and look at your photos and status updates. Burglars who know social media use Facebook's Open Graph to target users with open profiles
  2. Take away all Location services from your social media profiles before going away
  3. Don't be stupid - This can be tough for some people. Mentioning where you are going and how long you are going to be away for to complete strangers won't come recommended by many social media experts. But there are plenty of people who still do it, and these are the people who will be likely targets
  4. Remove EXIF data from all your images. These are essentially GPS for an image. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram remove EXIF data from uploaded images, but not every social network and external image host does
  5. Wait until you get home! Too many people are so preoccupied with "capturing a moment" that they forget to live in the moment. Take photos and make films of course, but will it really matter if your friends and family don't see them on Facebook 10 minutes later and have to wait until you get back from holiday? Of course not.

Social media is an open invite to burglars, but if you still insist on using it while your away, you can still take some precautions at home to ensure that burglars are put off from targeting your home. For example, you can modernise your garage doors with electronic locks and alarms, ensure that security alarm systems are visible to a burglar when they stakeout your home for signs of weakness, and keep all windows and doors equipped with modern locks. You can also set the lighting inside your home to come on during intervals in the evening, something that will deter a lot of burglars. A home in darkness is much more likely to be empty, after all.

When it comes to home security, the best thing you can do is cover all areas of your property and then be smart when using social media and technology. In most cases, it is the people with the blasé attitude of "it will never happen to me" and lax security that end up being burgled as they upload their holiday snaps to their open Facebook profile with their location settings switched on. If you want to make a donation towards a burglar's retirement fund, go right ahead, but it can be avoided if you think before you Tweet.