This essay discusses how the police in Gainesville, Georgia have issued a warning on their Facebook page. It seems there is some concern that the bumper stickers adorning the family minivan can be used by criminals to glean all sorts of valuable information. How many people are in the house, where the kids go to school, is there a dog as a pet. Next thing you know, the bad guys are boldly breaking in to what they already know as a place where no one can resist them.
There is some precedent to such thinking. The popular crime novel The Silence of the Lambs (1988) features a serial killer who slaughters entire families within minutes of gaining entry to their home. (As was so kindly pointed out in the comments, it was actually the book Red Dragon. Thanks for the correction!) He is virtually unstoppable because he knows everything there is before ever making his move, arriving in the middle of the night with a counter to every lock and security measure. The twist is that the killer works at a company that develops film and photographs. (Remember when people sent their photos away to be developed before they could look at them?)
He chooses his victims based on what they look like in their home movies and snapshots, and then uses the same material to plan the crime. Interior layout of the house, locks, windows, security systems, pets, obstacles. It is all looked over and planned for long before the killer ever gets within a thousand miles of his intendeds. All it takes is a few days of careful observation of the house to find out their normal routines, and the killer is ready to indulge in his sick hobby.
So we have to ask ourselves: How much of a danger is this to those of us out here in the real world?
My take on it is that it is never a good idea to broadcast such private information to anyone who might stumble across it, but it is extremely unlikely that a criminal will have the patience or organizational skills necessary to plan out a home invasion with such precision. The vast majority of home invasions are little more than crimes of opportunity, with the bad guys deciding to kick down a back door in the middle of the day because they think the legal residents are not at home.
Those most at risk for carefully planned crimes are the rich, who must be on their guard against kidnapping, and anyone who might be the target of a stalker. As I have never had much money, nor have I ever been accused of being attractive, I think I am safe!
The novel mentioned above is hopelessly dated. Wannabee serial killers don’t have to work at obscure jobs developing home movies in order to find out all they need to know about potential victims. Now all they have to do is browse social media.
Everything a vicious and violent criminal would need to know in order to target his next victim is right there. Where someone lives, what they look like, what pets they own, what the interior of their domicile is like. The new breed of serial killer doesn’t even need to bother lurking in the woods with binoculars for a few days to find out the routine of their intended as people even post their schedule, saying they will be somewhere at such-and-such a time. All the bad guy needs to do is arrive early with a length of pipe and some zip ties.
(The real fun begins once Tintin is loaded into the van!)
Social media sites have become amazingly popular, with some statistics putting the total number of users in the billions. If criminals use the data so prominently displayed on those sites to target victims and plan their foul deeds, then the number of crimes must have exploded along with the amount of available information!
Well, no, not so much.
In closing, please keep in mind that I think it is a bad idea to release so much personal information into the Internet. There is no doubt that allowing anyone to know so much about your daily life is a potential risk to your security, and there is no good reason to just toss it out there where people of ill will can access it whenever they please. That having been said, there is also an extremely small chance that anything bad will come of the practice. I suppose it comes down to never leaving yourself vulnerable for nothing.